One of my goals for 2016 is to read the entire Canada Reads 2016 Longlist and with this post, I’m sharing my thoughts on the first one: All The Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer. I’m sure you’re asking yourself, what is Canada Reads? It’s basically an annual “battle of the books” competition, organized and broadcast by CBC. Five Canadian panellists champion novels based on a specific theme. This year’s theme is ‘starting over’ and you can read more about that and the panellists here.
I’d also love to invite you to read one, some or all of the books, from either the shortlist or longlist. It’d be great discussing these books with others and deciding which one deserves to win Canada Reads 2016!
2016 Shortlist (top 5 books that will be part of the debate):
The Outside Circle by Patti LaBoucane-Benson & Kelly Mellings
Swamp Angel by Ethel Wilson
All The Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer
Birdie by Tracey Lindberg
Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz
Buying on Time by Antanas Sileika
Landing Gear by Kate Pullinger
Minister Without Portfolio by Michael Winter
Niko by Dimitri Nasrallah
Sitting Practice by Caroline Adderson
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Sweetland by Michael Crummey
The Amazing Absorbing Boy by Rabindranath Maharaj
The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami
The Illegal by Lawrence Hill
All The Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer | 4/5 stars
Release Date: January 14, 2014
Publisher: Random House CA
Synopsis on Goodreads:
A novel of exceptional heart and imagination about the ties that bind us to each other, broken and whole, from one of the most exciting voices in Canadian fiction.
September, 1983. Fourteen-year-old Bo, a boat person from Vietnam, lives in a small house in the Junction neighbourhood of Toronto with his mother, Thao, and his four-year-old sister, who was born severely disfigured from the effects of Agent Orange. Named Orange, she is the family secret; Thao keeps her hidden away, and when Bo’s not at school or getting into fights on the street, he cares for her.
One day a carnival worker and bear trainer, Gerry, sees Bo in a streetfight, and recruits him for the bear wrestling circuit, eventually giving him his own cub to train. This opens up a new world for Bo–but then Gerry’s boss, Max, begins pursuing Thao with an eye on Orange for his travelling freak show. When Bo wakes up one night to find the house empty, he knows he and his cub, Bear, are truly alone. Together they set off on an extraordinary journey through the streets of Toronto and High Park. Awake at night, boy and bear form a unique and powerful bond. When Bo emerges from the park to search for his sister, he discovers a new way of seeing Orange, himself and the world around them.
All the Broken Things is a spellbinding novel, at once melancholy and hopeful, about the peculiarities that divide us and bring us together, and the human capacity for love and acceptance.
I think Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer is a fantastic storyteller; her writing has a very lyrical aspect to it. She’s able to combine several important issues without overwhelming the reader. When it comes to All The Broken Things, everything is connected and flows really well. Kuitenbrouwer brings out a very emotional response from the reader and presents two ways of looking at things.
I instantly liked Bo and thought the author did a very good job of pushing the reader to be sympathetic towards him. Fourteen year old Bo is a very lonely person – he deals with bullying and prejudice on a daily basis, so his home life is mainly made up of his four year old sister, Orange, when their mother is at work. Orange was born severely disfigured from the effects of Agent Orange, a herbicide used during the Vietnam War. The reader witnesses what seems like Bo’s most confusing time of his life and being in his head, reading what he’s observing, is very fascinating. For one, Bo is extremely frustrated at his mother. She’s not home a lot and is trying to adopt a Canadian lifestyle. Bo doesn’t recognize it, but his mother seems to have depression. When she came to Canada, she didn’t expect for her husband to die on the journey and for Orange to be born disfigured – for her, this is shameful to live with. Ultimately, she doesn’t have a positive outlet. This pushes Bo to accept a job in the bear wrestling circuit – if his mother can be home with Orange, all the better for his family.
There was one thing I disliked about Bo: he’s a bit juvenile for his age and I don’t think the author has a complete picture of how a teenager acts. Bo is portrayed as smart and observant; even when he doesn’t understand something, he still gets a good or bad feeling from it. This is an adult book with a fourteen year old protagonist and the one reason it wouldn’t work as a YA book is because the author doesn’t fully believe in Bo the teenager. There were moments when Bo didn’t understand something that I feel a teenager would. Make no mistake, I loved Bo and thought he was a great character, but I question the author’s idea of a teenager.
Kuitenbrouwer illustrates important issues of 1983 Toronto and I found myself in disbelief at the sort of things that were happening. When you learn new things like this, it paints a whole new perspective. There were issues ranging from discrimination and animal abuse re: circus/entertainment to poverty and suicide. The only thing I disliked about this was the author never seemed to focus on just one. When there are issues like these, I feel the author should create a solid discussion and not rely on the reader to start it. I also found troubling the lack of police action and the author doesn’t make clear if this was common in the 80’s.
I loved the relationship between Bo and his bear, Bear. It’s one of those things where you end up wishing for the same (yet different) deeply, connected bond with an animal. Even better, it makes me want to write about such a bond between human and animal (Life of Pi), or animal and animal (Two Brothers, The Lion King). Adding to that, the plot is fantastic and never fails to draw you in. I think I came off more harsh than my rating would suggest, but I really enjoyed this novel. I whole-heartidly believe you can both love a book and question it. Kuitenbrouwer is a beautiful writer and I definitely recommend this book!