Must-Have Newfoundland and Labrador Books of 2020
Sea-crossings, starlit journeys and saltbox houses. Foraging, folklore and friendships. Residential schools, resettlement and recovery.
The 10 reads in this Must-Have Newfoundland and Labrador Books of 2020 list offer something for all of our near and dear ones. In a year we needed books more than ever, whether to transport us to other times and places or to bring us closer together, these titles answered the call.
Find a nook and reach for one of these books, all published in 2020, either by a local publisher or written by someone who calls Newfoundland and Labrador home.
These 10 books are listed in alphabetical order (by title). Creating a list like this is painstakingly difficult because there’s plenty of new published titles, which is great news for avid readers.
A Long Journey: Residential Schools in Labrador and Newfoundland by Andrea Procter
Residential schools in Newfoundland and Labrador separated Inuit and Innu children from their families, communities and culture, with devastating consequences. While A Long Journey is authored by an anthropologist, it’s the voices of residential school survivors that make this book stand apart from previous works.
Most of what was previously reported about these boarding schools came from the authorities who ran them: the Moravian Mission and the International Grenfell Association in Labrador (North West River, Cartwright, Makkovik, Nain) and Newfoundland (St. Anthony). But now, invited by the Newfoundland and Labrador Healing and Commemoration project (created by government and communities to support healing and reconciliation) to record survivor stories, Procter delivers the most thorough examination of its kind.
Ananias by James Case
When James Case set out to tell the story of his third great grandfather, Ananias Case, the foundational storyline was already in place. But where the genealogical facts ended, so too did the fine details of rich storytelling.
That’s why the author turned to historical fiction to pick up where his trail of family facts left off. With scrupulous attention to detail—be it to time, place, circumstance, manners of speaking and dressing or geography—Case has constructed a riveting tale, with the precision of an architect.
Every ship in the book, for example, including the one Ananias boards in 1826 from Fowey, England to Carbonear, Newfoundland, is based in fact. But never mind these well-researched details—you’ll get lost in the story about a man in search of a new life, at a time when the world remains deeply inequitable, unstable and fast-changing.
Lost in Newfoundland by Michael Winsor
The cover features an arresting scene of a massive iceberg hovering over the houses, fishing sheds and boats in Ferryland. Captured during the twilight “blue hour”, the sky appears a luminous dark blue.
The juxtaposition of light and dark is a theme that plays out throughout the book. A breaching humpback whale backlit by a golden yellow sky, the sun setting behind the mountains. A pitch-black sea and sky make the glowing red and yellow structures lining the shore in Newtown look otherworldly. A full moon’s light seemingly answered by the light of the lighthouse at Fort Amherst.
These playful light and dark notes fit perfectly with the book’s featured creatures: a swimming polar bear, two Atlantic puffins touching beaks and a sun-loving fox kit are sure to please.
Melt by Heidi Wicks
Melt twists and turns as it recounts the then and now tales of lifetime friends, Jess and Cait. From teenagers in the 90s to 30-somethings today, theirs is a layered, lifelong friendship that will surely have you calling up your own bestie to reminisce.
Dealing with dashed hopes, rebounds, losses and fresh starts, it is heartwarming, heartrending and humourous. The chapter titles alone are a journey in emotions: “fake tans, false hopes,” “salt in the womb,” “wind warning in the wrecked house” and “a healing separation agreement of horseshittery.” Sharp details about coming of age in St. John’s in the late nineties are especially nostalgic–-whether you experienced it firsthand or not, after reading Melt, you’ll think you had.
One Good Reason by Séan McCann and Andrea Aragon
As a former member of Great Big Sea, McCann opens up about how his alcoholism was too easily hidden in his rock-star lifestyle. Neither the band nor life on the road initiated his addiction, but the lifestyle (every day was like a Friday) certainly exacerbated it.
Even after parting with the band, it would be years before he’d uncover the root cause of his alcoholism. In 2014, McCann shared that he had been sexually abused as a teenager by a parish priest–-someone known to him and his family, someone they thought they could trust.
What makes this memoir particularly compelling is hearing the spouse's perspective. Aragon offers a parallel account, showing the painful effects addiction has on the family.
While the pages of One Good Reason sting with hard truths, they also sing, as McCann shares lyrics showing the healing power of music and Bee Stanton provides original drawings.
Resettlement edited by Isabelle Côté and Yolande Pottie-Sherman
This collection of scholarly essays, edited by a political scientist (Côté) and geographer (Pottie-Sherman), with history and law viewpoints, covers a lightning rod of a subject for Newfoundland and Labrador. Resettlement provides the most comprehensive overview of community relocation here, with new analysis covering the last decade.
The book also compares the causes and consequences (desired and undesired), actors and policies of resettlement globally, for example, in Ireland and across the Arctic regions of Canada and Greenland. With its settler colonialism roots, contemporary resettlement, we learn, wears many guises, from economic development (modernizing the fishery against a backdrop of outport life as primitive and backward), to geopolitics (Innu and Mi’kmaw people forced from their traditional lands to accommodate the construction of wartime air bases) to climate change (northern communities threatened by coastal erosion, flooding and permafrost thaw).
Screech! Ghost Stories from Old Newfoundland by Charis Cotter
“In Newfoundland there are two kinds of screech: one is a drink and the other is a scream,” begins this collection of ghost stories for middle-grade readers.
Cotter has assembled a collection of haunting stories eliciting the second variety of screech. These 10 terrifying tales are a take on true events (some more than a century old), collected during Cotter’s travels from the province’s farthest reaching corners (a map at the outset helps orient the reader).
Every story features a black-and-white illustration from NL artist Genevieve Simms and ends with “The Story Behind The Story,” featuring background details about the setting, ghosts and original storytellers. Read about a phantom berry-picker on the barrens or a haunted house in a soon-to-be resettled outport community. Come summer, you’ll be retelling these scary stories around fire-pits.
The Forager’s Dinner by Shawn Dawson
It only takes a delayed ferry (or global pandemic) to show the vulnerability of the province’s food systems. After all, since the overwhelming majority of fresh vegetables consumed in Newfoundland and Labrador are imported, a little delay can have a big impact.
Enter The Forager’s Dinner. This part field guide, part cookbook shows what’s good enough to eat from your own backyard with recipes from local chefs for added inspiration. Dawson takes readers to forests, fields and bogs to places you wouldn’t expect to find vegetation (let alone of the edible variety) such as barrens, cliff sides and shorelines.
There, the author identifies more than 50 edible plants including trees, weeds, berries and fruit, while also offering tips for what he calls, “sustainable foraging.” For example, use a knife (for mushrooms) or your fingers (for berries) to leave roots and bushes intact. Pick only what you’ll use and always leave a healthy patch behind to support future regrowth. This is a book for appreciating what lies just past your porch—all the more relevant for these pandemic times.
The Moon King by Cara Kansala
The Moon King tells the story of a clumsy sky creature, dependent on the kindness of Earth’s animals, to right the stars in the sky. A wondrous bedtime tale with mesmerizing illustration, Kansala depicts Newfoundland and Labrador as a dreamland (though only ever naming Labrador, which deserves extra points, given The Big Land is often left behind).
Starlit cliffs and caves, firths and fiords make for a mystical and moonlit lullaby. Here, all wild creatures–-Arctic hare, moose, black bear, fox, whale, wolves, and birds–-are quick to lend a paw, fin or wing to help the Moon King reignite the night sky with stars. Everything returns to its rightful place just in time for the wild creatures (and your own little ones) to fall asleep.
The Woman in the Attic by Emily Hepditch
Hannah Fitzgerald’s return to her childhood home turns into one unsettling finding after another. The house itself is a shadow of its former days, in disrepair from years of Hannah’s mother’s hoarding and neglect.
Her mother too, is a shadow of her former self, old age having robbed her of her mental faculties. That’s why Hannah has come back–-to help her mother transition from hospice home care to an assisted living facility.
But as she’s packing her mother’s belongings, Hannah makes another startling finding in the family home. In the attic, there’s a hidden bedroom.
What follows is a suspenseful search for clues as Hannah uncovers deadly secrets in the room that are as deep as the room is dark. With the coastal winds now a constant threat to these worn walls, the prying eyes of the hospice nurse and her mother’s frequent violent outbursts, Hepditch’s The Woman in The Attic is a story about a daughter fighting the odds to find her family’s truth.
--Jenn Thornhill Verma is a freelance journalist, landscape painter and non-profit healthcare executive from Newfoundland, living in Ottawa with her family. She is a proud descendent of a long line of fishers. She is a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, holds a Master of Science in Medicine (Memorial University of Newfoundland) and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction and Bachelor of Journalism-Biology (University of King’s College).