By Shoilee Khan
The small press is a mighty thing; risk-taking, genre-disrupting, experimental works of great impact often find their home here. It’s a publishing space that takes intentional chances on new voices and engages with a vision for a literary landscape that is interesting, thoughtful, unexpected, and nuanced. The small press is where new, original, and vibrant works of art find dedicated belief and care.
This month’s reading challenge highlights a selection of debut novels published by a small press. The debut novel is exciting because it is the beginning of a fascination. It represents the breakthrough of a writer’s voice in novel form; it carries with it the weight of a promise – here is a voice that has captured us and will capture you. Here it is at the very start making its mark on the world, making its mark on you.
These selections range across a spectrum of provoking topics: intense social and historical critiques, tender coming-of-age fumbles, wild and imaginative hauntings, and heart-wrenching multi-generational family sagas.
Slip into the biting cold of November with the flush of a vibrant, debut novel that will guide you somewhere new.
1)Isolated Incident, by Mariam Pirbhai
When a rock, a threatening letter, and a burning Quran are thrown into a mosque on the outskirts of Toronto, religious leaders and the police shrug it off as an isolated incident. But many see it as a hate crime. Among them is Kashif Siddiqui, the son of Pakistani immigrants. Kashif joins a group of volunteers at an Islamic Cultural Centre on a security watch during the festive Eid night, a potential target of another attack. When an attack materializes, Eid night becomes a test of friendship, family, and faith for the community; it also ends in near-tragedy and a declaration of love and reconciliation.
2) The Loyal Daughter, by Nancy Lam
The Loyal Daughter is a novel in stories, told from the perspective of mother, daughter, and granddaughter and spans the 1940s to modern day. A young woman in a village in Communist China finds herself scrapping her way through the crowded streets of Hong Kong. She immigrates to an isolated Northern Ontario city and finally settles in Toronto. When she finds herself stuck in a small apartment above a clothing store, with four kids, her mother, two siblings, and a husband who is never home, the promise of a new beginning fades. Filled with heart-breaking sacrifices, struggles, and secrets that shape her identity, The Loyal Daughter stands testament to a woman’s true resilience.
3) Jade Is a Twisted Green, by Tanya Turton
Jade Brown, a twenty-four-year-old first-generation Jamaican woman living in Toronto, must find a way to pick up the pieces and discover who she is following the mysterious death of her twin sister.
Grappling with her grief, Jade seeks solace in lovers and friends during an array of hilarious and heartbreaking adventures. As she investigates some of life’s most frustrating paradoxes, she holds tight to old friends and her ex-girlfriend, lifelines between past and present. On the journey to turning twenty-five, she finally sees that she belongs to herself, and goes about the business of reclaiming that self.
Through a series of whirlwind love affairs, parties, and trips abroad, Jade stumbles toward relinquishing the weight of her trauma as she fully comes into her own as a young Black woman and writer.
4) All The Quiet Places, by Brian Thomas Isaac (Available on Audible Canada)
Marion Shaw has been raised in the slums, where want and deprivation are all she knows. Despite longing to leave the city and its miseries, she has no real hope of escape until the day she spots a peculiar listing in the newspaper seeking a bloodmaid.
Though she knows little about the far north—where wealthy nobles live in luxury and drink the blood of those in their service—Marion applies to the position. In a matter of days, she finds herself the newest bloodmaid at the notorious House of Hunger. There, Marion is swept into a world of dark debauchery. At the centre of it all is Countess Lisavet.
The countess, who presides over this hedonistic court, is loved and feared in equal measure. She takes a special interest in Marion. Lisavet is magnetic, and Marion is eager to please her new mistress. But when she discovers that the ancient walls of the House of Hunger hide even older secrets, Marion is thrust into a vicious game of cat and mouse. She’ll need to learn the rules of her new home—and fast—or its halls will soon become her grave.