City of Toronto Book Award finalist Scarborough is a low-income, culturally diverse neighborhood east of Toronto, the fourth largest city in North America; like many inner city communities, it suffers under the weight of poverty, drugs, crime, and urban blight. Scarborough the novel employs a multitude of voices to tell the story of a tight-knit neighborhood under among them, Victor, a black artist harassed by the police; Winsum, a West Indian restaurant owner struggling to keep it together; and Hina, a Muslim school worker who witnesses first-hand the impact of poverty on education. And then there are the three kids who work to rise above a system that consistently fails Bing, a gay Filipino boy who lives under the shadow of his father's mental illness; Sylvie, Bing's best friend, a Native girl whose family struggles to find a permanent home to live in; and Laura, whose history of neglect by her mother is destined to repeat itself with her father. Scarborough offers a raw yet empathetic glimpse into a troubled community that locates its dignity in unexpected a neighborhood that refuses to be undone. Catherine Hernandez is a queer theatre practitioner and writer who has lived in Scarborough off and on for most of her life. Her plays Singkil and Kilt Pins were published by Playwrights Canada Press, and her children's book M is for A Pride ABC Book was published by Flamingo Rampant. She is the Artistic Director of Sulong Theatre for women of color.
Catherine Hernandez (she/her) is an award-winning author and screenwriter. She is a proud queer woman who is of Filipino, Spanish, Chinese and Indian descent and married into the Navajo Nation. Her first novel, Scarborough, won the Jim Wong-Chu Award for the unpublished manuscript; was a finalist for the Toronto Book Awards, the Evergreen Forest of Reading Award, the Edmund White Award, and the Trillium Book Award; and was longlisted for Canada Reads. She has written the critically acclaimed plays Singkil, The Femme Playlist and Eating with Lola and the children’s books M Is for Mustache: A Pride ABC Book and I Promise. She recently wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation of Scarborough, which is currently in post-production by Compy Films with support from Telefilm Canada and Reel Asian Film Festival. She is the creator of Audible Original’s audio sketch comedy series Imminent Disaster. Her second novel, Crosshairs, published simultaneously in Canada and the US and the UK this spring, made the CBC's Best Canadian Fiction, NOW Magazine's 10 Best Books, Indigo Best Book, Audible Best Audiobooks and NBC 20 Best LGBTQ Books list of 2020. Her third children's book, Where Do Your Feelings Live? which is a guide for kids living through these scary times, has been commissioned by HarperCollins Canada and will be published in winter 2022.
Scarborough is an ethnically diverse, lower-income suburb east of Toronto. It’s also the name and setting of Catherine Hernandez’s deeply empathetic debut novel, a colourful book that represents a myriad of voices that are too seldom heard in books and movies.
From Fall 2011 to Summer 2012, we follow the lives of about a dozen people living in the Kingston/Galloway* area, including several young children who attend a school’s literacy program, their parents and neighbours.
Using both first and third person narration, Hernandez gets us deep inside all these characters’ heads.
There’s Laura, the quiet, sensitive waif whose mother leaves her in the opening chapter to be raised by her angry, racist father, Cory, a former skinhead and gang member; there’s Bing, a queer, overweight Filipino boy who lives with his mother Edna, after they’ve left Bing’s mentally ill father downtown; there’s Bing’s best friend, Sylvie, an Indigenous girl who lives in a shelter with her mother, Marie, and her brother, Johnny, who’s got some undiagnosed condition.
Initially, it’s a little hard to keep track of all these people. But Hernandez uses a savvy structural device. She lets us read email reports by Hina Hassani, the literacy program’s young facilitator, to her supervisor. In these missives, Hina comments on the children in her care (and their parents), and so we get to see these people and their actions from different perspectives.
We also get to see Hina struggling with the bureaucratic stonewalling by her patronizing, passive aggressive supervisor, who signs off her emails with an increasingly annoying Oprah Winfrey quote (“Reading is a way for me to expand my mind, open my eyes, and fill up my heart.”)
In addition, we get to see brief (perhaps too brief?) glimpses of others: a woman who works in a neighbouring massage parlour; another denizen of the shelter; a mother and son associated with a Caribbean restaurant who one day, after their refrigerator breaks down, give out free chicken to a desperately hungry Cory and Laura. And then there’s Victor, a talented Black visual artist who’s commissioned by the city to illustrate a bridge when he gets stopped by the police and brutally interrogated.
Hernandez has control over most of her narrative threads, stitching together a sturdy patchwork quilt of a tale. The passages involving Bing and his mother, who works in a nail salon, feel a bit more vivid and detailed than the others, particularly with Tagalog expressions. But Hernandez doesn’t hold back in letting us see, for instance, life through the angry, embittered eyes of Cory, with all his sad and pathetic contradictions.
By the halfway mark we’re involved in all the characters’ struggles and minor triumphs. It’s not a coincidence that the final word in the novel is “home.” Scarborough honours these real, often marginalized people, by depicting their home with truth and compassion.
Let’s hope schools and libraries – in Scarborough and beyond – promote this book. Can’t wait to see what the talented Hernandez writes next.
*Full disclosure: I grew up in Scarborough about a mile from this neighbourhood and recognized many of the landmarks the author writes about. I also know the author from her theatre work and through social media.
WOW! This book blew me away. I literally could NOT put it down. It's a slice of life in a low-income multi-cultural Canadian community where poverty and racism is rampant, but also where love and acceptance flourish. One of the best books I have read in the past year.
Authors often try to do two things while telling a story of home: create a loving homage to where they grew up, while also demonstrating the hidden truths that an outsider cannot see. It is a challenging balancing act but many writers have done so wonderfully, in a long literary tradition; think of Charles Dickens and his tales based in London. Dickens used his books to tell the stories of people often in low socioeconomic conditions, and how that impacted their lives and the choices they made. His characters were often the victim of circumstance and had to learn to navigate a world in which opportunities were not abundant, where they were forced to live in the margins of society.
In Scarborough, Catharine Hernandez attempts to do the same by telling the stories of characters living in the eponymous east-end borough of Toronto. Using a large cast of characters, we are acquainted with the broad diversity associated with the area and its citizens. A school serves as the focal setting of the story where we are introduced to three of its students, Laura, Sylvie, and Bing, and eventually, their parents, their families, and the community members around them. Through shifting character viewpoints, we come to learn the prejudices and biases that each contain; despite any thought of harmony between the diverse denizens, there are bigotries within them all. It is not only within its community alone; Hernandez also demonstrates how the government and bureaucracy can let down those in need, especially through the use of the fictional “Ontario Reads Program”.
While the effort is valiant, much of the story is underserved with clunky writing and didactic storytelling. Towards the start of the novel, we are asked to imagine the fall season with a description of “Now the wind blows a fierce warning of a dark season to come”. A married man who cruises in the evenings describes his trysts as this: “Here, we were naked from the calves up, thrusting our truths into the assholes of strangers”. A father, Cory, describing the beauty of his young daughter says that “She was the most beautiful sack of potatoes he ever did see”. These lines would disrupt any flow in reading, simply for their ungainliness. It also manifested into odd character perspectives where they would make observations that seemed to be an authorial choice, rather than the perspective of the person. For example, Cory thinks of himself as “purebred white trash” at one point while looking for food, while separately, when Bing and Sylvie are playing together, Sylvie describes running about, “our baby fat jiggling under the hiss and spray”. Hernandez appears to be unable to resist her own commentary at these moments, rather than writing in the voice of the characters themselves.
It is what all leads to the aforementioned didactic storytelling: in this story, there are clear villains and valorized heroes. It is where, I think, Hernandez could not resist loving her main characters and demonizing those with poorer morals; a self-created moral righteousness. Cory, a white former skinhead with a coloured daughter, is often cartoonishly racist in his interactions with the diverse community. Bing, as the queer, young, child character, does face some bullying in the story, but has the most saccharine, banal ending overall, where seemingly everything works out well. It’s a shame because Hernandez clearly recognizes that many of her characters are complex and carry contradictory prejudices. For anyone unfamiliar with Scarborough, the book may be an introduction to a new community and the challenges it faces, but only at a surface level; ultimately, it packages the borough into a short, simple, easy-to-read novel.
perhaps the most important piece of writing you will ever read. acting as a window into the lives of those from different cultures, incomes, and social groups, scarborough touches on issues such as racism, poverty, sexuality, and prostitution as it strives to make a canadian suburb community's presence known through their stories.
catherine hernandez has such a way with words. rich in emotion, and packed with a punch that will make you crumble, she makes her case for the work that needs to be put in to assure that children, who deserve so much better than what is being handed to them by governments and society that sees them as weaponised individuals who we needn't do better for, are being heard and seen.
“i was fifteen. you were four. i taught you drama in a scarborough community centre. you were surviving neglect. wherever you are, i hope you are safe and know i loved you enough to write you this book.”
This book touched me deeply and illustrated the true meaning of community.
Catherine Hernandez is a great writer. From my understanding this is her debut novel and what a debut!
In Scarborough, things may be hard but community comes together when they face challenges, even when they may not want to. Being born into a Scarborough family and having family still out there, Catherine Hernandez managed to distill the complexities and strengths of the community down into something beautiful and that depicts the resilient ways of our Scarborough and Toronto people on a whole.
A multicultural city and one of the largest cities in Canada, Scarborough's storylines were ones to grapple with but they weren't dealt with with kid gloves, they also weren't stretched out to be more violent or more depressing or sad than they are in real life.
I appreciated that fact because it added quality to her stories and told stories that are true. Stories that I have seen before and encountered before; not only in Scarborough but in a variety of Toronto communities and also anyone reading this novel from any diverse community could see issues in their areas represented here.
Catherine Hernandez was able to show the rough with the smooth, and what it's like living, working, being impoverished, raising kids and existing in sometimes combative landscapes. It's a unique staple of Scarborough and of other Toronto communities like Rexdale and Regent Park; where we have newcomers, the old guard, the people who are open to change and those who are resistant to change living within mere feet of each other. Not to mention, it's Canada and this book is set around Christmas, so it's cold, it's fucking cold.
She was able to show the results of diverse groups of people living in close proximities to each other in this book, sharing shelter experiences, many times showing how the rough and smooth operate in direct contrast with each other. The violent former skinhead who's racist, angry, abusive and struggling with his own personal issues vs the muslim teacher who wants to see the skinhead's child taken care of. The black shelter workers who are on the brink of being jaded but fiercely protects their shelter's multicultural families. The kids who are in school and coming into their own struggling with poverty, learning about themselves, their developing sexual identities, their parent's mental health issues, while still trying to make friends and be kind and not be bullies or be bullied. Her ability to write characters who are polar opposites connecting, displayed an underlining empathy and realism that spoke to me. Some characters had this empathy built into them and it just poured out in this manner that hit me hard because coming from Toronto, you meet people like the Hijabi Muslim teacher who's the strong voice of reason, or the Eastern European hooker who takes time out from her work to check on the kids through the window in the building next to her spa, every day. It's not a phenomenon here to see women like this but they generally go unacknowledged — so it felt like seeing them for the first time. It legit felt like Catherine Hernandez was like: I see all you women who contribute to the good in society while facing harsh realities of your own. It was beautiful and added to my love of this book.
I really like how she didn't hold back describing the inner monologue that people have running in their heads all day and why people do the things they do, when they do them. For example, the husband/partner of the restaurant owner. That was a fantastic, realistic, sharp storyline. More real than we could ever know.
Overall, this book was fire. FLAMES! I really enjoyed it and it is one of the better books, if not one of the best books that I've read this year in 2018. I can't wait to read what else Catherine Hernandez writes.
books don’t usually make me cry but this one has me tearing up. what a powerful story about my own city. children deserve so much better than what this world has to offer them. catherine hernandez is an incredibly talented story teller, i’m so moved. heartbreaking and heartwarming all at once, this is a story of love, friendship, childhood, loss of innocence, self acceptance, and truth.
A beautifully written story of three different families, and a number of other individuals, in a lower income neighbourhood in Scarborough, a municipality east of Toronto. Catherine Hernandez follows these families' parents, primarily the mothers, and the children through several months as they struggle with a variety of things, such as poverty, addiction, domestic abuse, developmental and learning issues, racism and precarious living conditions. Hernandez also shows us a provincially-funded literacy centre, run by a compassionate social worker that these children frequent. The story is dark, with everyone living on the edge and struggling. The mothers (except for one) are the backbones of these families, and we see the women doing their best with what they have to care for their children. The social worker also provides us with a view into the differences in understanding and experiences between her and her immediate supervisor through the use of a number of sharply written email exchanges. The social worker has to fight for the children (and for herself and her approach) against her immediate supervisor's lack of understanding of the basic, living conditions and needs of the children and their parents, and the many barriers in place to keep the families in a cycle of poverty. I wish this book had received the notice that David Chariandy's Brother had, as this book casts a light upon a segment of the population not usually seen or shown in stories, and is an excellent story.
With the theme being "One Book To Connect Us" I can certainly understand why Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez was chosen as a finalist in Canada Reads 2022. Home to this author, Scarborough (a suburb east of Toronto) is her beautifully written debut novel. She captures the voices of different ethnic backgrounds in her community with compassion and eloquence. She gives us interwoven stories about children and their parents as they struggle with poverty, violence, substance abuse and a system that is in desperate need of improvement. A powerful story of survival that is heartbreaking and empowering! The last chapter blew me away!
This book needed an editor. There are parts that are truly excellent, particularly the tense ‘epistolary’ tension between Hina, a supervisor at an early learning centre in Scarborough, and her racist white supervisor, narrated via emails.
Scarborough is a ‘hyperdiverse ethnoburb’, and in Hernandez’ attempt to capture every single facet of that diversity leads to way too many dropped threads. There is a Black artist whose entire plot consists of being harassed by the police. He is said to be a talented artist, but this plot point is never developed. Similarly, a potentially interesting restauranteur, Winsom, appears to be included in order to introduce her gay nephew and a cruising scene in the Bluffs. Then there is a chapter about a token white middle class girl and her miserable family. None of this goes anywhere, and frankly, it says nothing new.
The best characters - other than Hina - are two children who attend her school program, and their tough moms. Bing Espiritu is a gifted child who is exploring his budding sexuality. His best friend Sylvie is an equally bright storyteller, with a brother whose special needs have not been diagnosed due to grinding poverty. They - and their respective tough moms Edna and Marie- are well drawn, and I wish the book had focused on them rather than throwing other adults and kids in the blender and pressing frappe.
3.5 Set in the city of Scarborough, which is east of Toronto and a large, culturally diverse, low-income municipality, this novel is unique: it’s rare to see a piece of fiction focus on a place and people like those in Scarborough with love and respect. I don’t know if there are any other novels focused so intimately on Scarborough and its people, actually. So for that fact alone, this is a noteworthy Canadian novel. But it’s not only that that makes Scarborough a worthwhile book.
Hernandez takes on the elaborate task of representing the community of Scarborough in all its diversity and truth admirably. The novel is focused intimately on the lives of Scarborough residents, without flinching. In particular, our way into this community is through three children: Bing, a queer Filipino kid with a single mom; Sylvie, Bing’s BFF and whose Mi’kmaq family lives in a shelter; and Laura, a white girl severely neglected by one parent and then the other. Hina, a program facilitator who runs a literacy program out of a local elementary school, serves as a kind of anchor point with connections to these kids and to many of the other characters... See my full review here
It's great to see Scarborough as a community getting some love from Canadian writers and readers lately, between the accolades for this novel and those of David Chariandy. This is a page-turning story featuring a kaleidoscope of narrators in the Kingston/Galloway neighbourhood of Scarborough, centered loosely around the families who attend a literacy program at the local elementary school. You have the voices of some of the children, including recurring narrators Bing (a chubby Filipino whose mom supports his intelligence and his gender expression), Sylvie (an aboriginal girl who lives with her family in a shelter) and Laura (who is delighted by the attention - and food- she gets at the literacy program but whose father is hostile to the Muslim program leader, Hina). I loved reading about a community that has been wrongfully neglected by literature for too long, and the story is engaging. Hernandez does try to jam in a lot of issues and it can get a bit 'after-school special' at times, and occasionally overdrawn. But her love of her characters and her passionate desire to shine a long-overdue spotlight on their lives shines through. 3.5.
“Scarborough” by Catherine Hernandez is a contender on this year’s @cbcbooks #canadareads shortlist. Wow! I really enjoyed this heartbreaking story and the multiple viewpoints that it is told through. I don’t know how Hernandez writes from so many view points with such depth and emotion and seeing. Every character felt deep and precise. There is wit about the systems that help us and as someone who also works in the front line with clients; relief in being understood. A wonderful book exploring the complexities of a modern, multicultural neighbourhood in Canada, thoughtfully looking at poverty and I thought this book was brilliant!
4.5 stars Huge thanks to my Secret Sender for gifting me this book. It is one of the five shortlisted for Canada Reads 2022. Once I started reading Scarborough I found it difficult to put the book down, as I was "caught up" in the lives of Laura, Bing, Sylvie and Ms.Hina Hassani.
This debut novel by Catherine Hernandez gives the reader an accurate picture of poverty, racism, drugs, crime, discrimination, and challenges in the low-income, culturally diverse community of Scarborough, Ontario.
I look forward to the Canada Reads debates and discussion about this book.
Pages 187, 188, 189 and 193 have the wrong date on the correspondences. These pages have the year 2011 instead of 2012.
Read this book. I followed each of the many diverse child and adult characters, hungry to know what was going to happen to each of them. I cheered when there was justice, was moved to tears when it was absent. A beautiful, touching and multi-layered look at this neighbourhood.
One of its remarkable strengths is that it has many protagonists, all of whom I could feel deeply for. And they are diverse in ways that we rarely see in CanLit. At moments I wondered if a couple of the minor characters could have been represented more through the main characters' eyes, rather than having their separate chapters. Even so, this was a page turner, a beautiful look at children and adults living their lives and dealing with everyday oppression.
I think this should be part of the required reading list for all social service, community worker, social worker, psychologist and teacher folk!
Realistically, 3.5 stars. Loved the concept, ambition, framework and format. The storyline was great, but the length of the book in combination with the high concentration of characters was the ultimate downfall for me, making it just a little too difficult to become fully emotionally invested in the characters.
Would recommend to others Would not say it’s one of my favourites
My parents stepped off a boat in Halifax in January 1967 and then took a train to Toronto. I was born in downtown Toronto in April and they took me back to their one bedroom apartment bordering on Scarborough.
They left Ireland freshly married to escape the disappointment my untimely early arrival would bring to their families. Neither parent had proven to be the star eldest child to their middle and upper class homes. Colossal disappointments, especially in their choice of spouse (despite a hastily arranged marriage they had been engaged for over a year and dating for years but neither family was happy about it and the quick departure to Canada post marriage was explained away by better job opportunities in colonized countries where their elocution lessons from their youth allowed them to hide their brogue irish accents).
They embarked into their life in Canada bearing no formal education beyond high school, fashionable elocution lessons that taught them both the "Queen's English" in the 1950s in Cork City, Ireland - and -their lovely white skin.
This book helped me see these facts even more clearly than I had before.
Thank-you Ms. Hernandez for this raw look into multiple lives lived in a suburb of the city I was born into. I feel that my understanding of white privilege (personally and beyond) in the diaspora of Toronto has grown much deeper.
Scarborough centers around a publicly funded literacy program in Southern Ontario. The educators, the parents and the children attending are the focus of the story as the author shifts perspectives from each family in an effort to dig deeper into a struggling low-income community.
This was a tough read. It’s not a long book, but what it lacks in length, it makes up for in emotional weight. The families profiled are seemingly all trying to keep their heads above water in one way or another. Whether they’re running from trauma, dealing with a broken healthcare system, finding a way to make ends meet or just searching for the strength to get through another day, the people in Catherine Hernandez’s novel reach through the pages and rip your heart out.
While I’ve only ever been to Scarborough in passing, I wouldn’t say you need a connection to this specific neighborhood to find a connection with the characters. I saw a lot of my hometown in these pages. I come from a low-income family myself and while many of these experiences are far worse than my own, I definitely felt a sense of commonality. Hernandez’s writing gave off a sense of authenticity that had me believing she had gone through a similar experience, or at least is closely connected with those who have.
I can see Scarborough going deep into this year’s Canada Reads competition and maybe even winning, but it definitely has stiff competition in the other novels. If anything, Scarborough forces the reader to recognize that there are many families out there that are struggling to get by on a day-to-day basis and that appearances can often be deceiving. We should all strive to be kinder and look to offer a helping hand when we can.
What a debut ! I am so impressed by how much compassion and feeling Catherine Hernandez managed to parcel out to such a large and diverse cast of characters. Scarborough is a microcosm of modern canadian culture. The story follows several characters, mostly children and their parents, living in a low-income area of Scarborough, a suburb east of Toronto. The book deal with heavy topics of white supremacy, racism, poverty, violence, child abuse, addiction, and parental neglect. My favorite character was Ms. Hina Hassani, a program facilitator at Rouge Hill Public School as part of the Ontario Reads Literacy Program. In my eye, people like Ms. Hassani are the real Canadian heroes.
This is my favourite book that I've read this year HANDS DOWN. It first came to my attention because I love the Ontario Library Association's Evergreen list each year. I enjoyed the audiobook version through Audible as Hernandez narrates her own book. I listen to audiobooks a lot on my commute to and from work, but this summer, I used the audiobook to motivate me as I was weeding my garden. I found myself, on more than one occasion, weeping openly in my yard.
It's a small but mighty hyperfocus on a neighbourhood in Scarborough, Ontario. It centres around the a Family Literacy centre which feels so real that I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Catherine Hernandez has done this work before, which is to say, scraping together a program and creating a culture of welcome using virtually nothing at all. The families that come and go each come to the centre for a different reason, and each child has unique challenges. 3 children's lives, in particular, are emphasized: Bing, Sylvie and Laura. Through their lives, Hernandez calls the reader to attention and reveals the crucial necessity of outreach programming.
The book is so poignant, so concise, as if no words are wasted. The overlapping timelines, character development and continuous threads allow the reader to see cause and effect repeat with often catastrophic results. Hernandez masterfully builds hope and then thwarts it with a harsh blow of reality, making each development really earn its place in building to the conclusion.
It turns out that Hernandez splits her time between writing and the theatre which maybe why I can tell that we're kindred spirits. This book could easily be staged or turned into a film. The images in my mind while listening were like a movie. I'll be following Hernandez's work and waiting impatiently for the arrival of whatever she's written. I can't say enough about the power of this book. Just go get it.
What Hernandez does really well in this book is get you right inside the prejudice deep in all of us. No one is immune or innocent - or at least after a certain age. I love that this book revolved around a children's centre. I can't imagine that was coincidence. All the young kids in the story really ARE innocent. But as the book develops, the tiny (and large at times) aggressions seep into those kids - you can see how it happens and where it comes from
The characters in this book are alive and fulsome and the writing is honest and educational. I felt my eyes were opened on every page, and I truly mean that. I learned a lot about diversity, about the mixing of cultures, about open- and closed-mindedness and the subtle ways these approaches impact the daily lives of everyone around us.
I could have gone on. I could have kept reading - and I expect Hernandez could have kept writing. But it had to stop somewhere. I am really looking forward to hearing this one defended at Canada Reads. It's a great book for discussion for everyone from every background. Well done!
overall i liked the book (it was good) but i thought that things were underdeveloped or just weird at some points. i liked the perspectives we saw from the main children (sylvie, bing, laura) but there were honestly just too many perspectives of irrelevant people that were not at all connected to the plot and never came up again. their lives and stories were interesting of course but (in my mind) it took away from the book.
also why did laura have to die?! what was the reason! i was very upset about that. very upsetting to think she tried to wake cory and he just slept through it so they both burned to death. i honestly wish that their deaths were better dealt with i felt like things were brushed over too quickly when that was a huge plot point. i wanted to see people grieve them for longer.
i liked bing’s ending a lot - i am very happy he got to perform and he was accepted into the gifted program good for him!
overall the book was good i just think it could have been better haha
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Read this again for the second time and it still continues to be one of my favourite books I have ever read (def in my top 10) I think about these characters so much in my day to day life i dont know what it is but this book as for sure left it's impression on me. Re-reading it just felt like a breath of fresh air
this was probably one of the best books that i have read this summer. reading about the different stories about the different people throughout this story (people I could 100% genuinely see living in scarborough) and reading about their different lives...it was just really good. i think everyone should read this book tbh, it was so good.
I am still a bit unstable after finishing such a marvelous and emotionally shattering book. It is times like this that I am so thankful for being in a book club, because it put a book in front of me that I might never have heard about or given a second glance otherwise because it focused on a topic I generally avoid, but I am so glad I stepped outside my comfort zone and read something so raw and so real.
There were times that I felt like screaming and crying, wanting nothing more than to hug the characters and show them that someone cares, but then there were times I jumped for joy and celebrated their victories, even the small ones, as if I were right there with them. This will take you on emotional highs and lows and if you ride the coaster you will treasure the experience at the end.
This book is good... really good. Like, Canada Reads-calibre good. An ode to intersectionality, the skill with which the author shifts perspectives throughout the story is masterful; parents, kids, grandparents, caregivers - the whole spectrum. From the failed (as a human) neo-Nazi who finds himself having to care (and failing at it) for his daughter for the first time, to the Mi'kmaq mother of two and wife to a gambler, living in a shelter and trying to navigate the health care system for her son who she just knows has something wrong with him, Hernandez expertly glides from one world to the next, all the while the knowing reader will recognize that she is talking about only a handful of city blocks.
East Scarborough is home to the world, and is a testament to how the city has utterly failed the poorest and most at-risk groups of people. The anguish of missing the 54 Lawrence bus knowing that another won't be around for at least 20 minutes if you are lucky, and anticipating whether or not you can struggle with hauling your $20 stroller aboard, to try to get back to the shelter in time to be able to prepare the Hamburger Helper you scored at the food bank is not an experience that most Canadians will be able to locate themselves in. The author forces you to bear witness to this daily struggle to survive that so many endure with little to no resources available to them, with those that are available to them have limits (only 6 sessions with a linguist for your severely autistic child!), are three bus routes away, or are under the threat of the whims of politicians and their bureaucrats.
But it's not all about abject poverty and misery. The strength of the characters relationships that are formed throughout are striking. Bing and Edna, in particular, made my heart swell twice its size. The intimate bond felt between mother and son has never been more acutely described in any other book I've read. The unconditional love that a mother has for her son and the way that he draws on that for strength as he endures bullying and to find his true identity had me weeping silently by page 64. This book. Unforgettable.
Anyone who runs for council or for service on a board of public office needs to read this book. This a story about how the system fails the vulnerable time and again. From the way a child who arrives at school with an empty lunch box relies on anyone but her parents to feed her to the experience of an Filipino single mother who has escaped the abuse of her mentally ill husband giving a pedicure to the wealthy white woman who just won't STFU for the sake of a $2 tip, nobody could look at this city the same ever again.