There’s so much to love about Canada, from the maple syrup to the Rocky Mountains, but one of the best and most underrated treasures of our country is the surplus of Canadian books. As a keen and enthusiastic reader, I’ve always enjoyed celebrating by reading, whether it be consuming excessive amounts of festive rom-coms to get into the Christmas spirit or by enthusiastically supporting queer authors during Pride Month. So, in honour of Canada Day, I have created a list spotlighting some of my favourite Canadian YA books across a wide range of genres, so that we can all give our authors the love they deserve. Grab some takeout from your favourite poutinerie, put on your Canadian tuxedo, and read on to discover some exceptional Canadian stories from coast to coast.
Maud by Melanie J. Fishbane
If you’re looking to be transported to the lush greens of Prince Edward Island, Maud by Melanie J. Fishbane has you covered. Imagining the life of L.M. Montgomery, the author of Anne of Green Gables, as a teenager, this work of historical fiction is filled with both tragedy and hope as Montgomery works at achieving her dream of becoming a writer. What I especially enjoyed is the way the writing style perfectly mimics the protagonist’s infamous novels. Fans of Anne of Green Gables will not want to miss this heartfelt origin story.
The Project by Courtney Summers
Courtney Summers has quickly proven herself to be an auto-buy author for me. Her portfolio of compelling books makes it difficult to choose just one pick, but one of my favourites is her latest work, The Project. It’s a story about a cult, except not the kind you would expect from watching films such as Midsommar. Instead, this story focuses on emotional manipulation and how cult leaders prey on vulnerability, as the main character goes from investigating the cult that took her sister to getting caught up in it herself. What makes the book truly shine is Courtney Summers’ masterful writing style, which draws the reader into the cult, just like the main character. This is a hauntingly beautiful book for those looking for something a little darker than your average beach read.
Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin
Hana Khan Carries On is a romantic comedy guaranteed to take you on an emotional rollercoaster. Told with humour and heart, the story depicts rival halal restaurants while also commenting on different forms of racism in Canada. Within its pages, you’ll find sabotage, descriptions of Toronto’s attractions, and plenty of delicious food. This is a powerful story about community and, of course, the importance of carrying on.
Charming as a Verb by Ben Philippe
Ben Philippe captures the feelings of an incoming first-year student in this relatable story about figuring out what your dream really is. The main character is a little younger since the book is set during his last year of high school, but a large part of the story is dedicated to touring Montreal and McGill’s campus. With a suspicious dog-walking business and earnest conversations about the future, this story about the final moments of senior year is sure to charm all readers.
Bonus: The Works of Sarah Mlynowski
This list would be incomplete without including Sarah Mlynowski’s rom-coms. For peak summer vibes, check out Just a Boy and a Girl in a Little Canoe, a contemporary about a girl who returns to her old summer camp as a counsellor while on summer break from university. Fun fact: Mlynowski is a McGill alumna!
The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow
The dystopian genre may be tired, but Erin Bow manages to keep it fresh in this dystopian thriller. Set in the future, The Scorpion Rules follows a group of royal children who have been taken as hostages for peace, meaning that if their country goes to war, they die. This one contains strong worldbuilding and a main character who is a Canadian princess, which is something you don’t see every day. If you’re looking for a book with a unique premise and political intrigue, this is one to check out.
Bruised by Tanya Boteju
Bruised is the lesbian roller derby book I never knew I needed. Containing a tough main character who pushes herself to the limit both physically and mentally, this is a powerful story about grief and finding strength in one’s vulnerability. I actually enjoyed this book so much that I was compelled to buy roller skates of my own. If you’re looking for other, more ubpeat queer reads, I also recommend Boteju’s debut, Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens, an entertaining contemporary about a girl who explores queer nightlife and the world of drag kings.
You Owe Me a Murder by Eileen Cook
Looking for something more action-packed? You Owe Me a Murder is a high-stakes thriller about a girl who is blackmailed into committing murder after she and a stranger joke about murdering each other’s enemies on a plane. It’s all fun and games until the main character’s ex turns up dead, and she is forced into a tough predicament; she must either hold up her end of the bargain by killing a stranger, or she must take the fall for his murder. With thrilling twists and suspenseful writing, this novel is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Saqiyuq: Stories from the Lives of Three Inuit Women by Nancy Wachowich
I don’t normally gravitate to nonfiction, but I couldn’t resist this collaborative life story set during the transformations that occurred in 1990s Nunavut. This one is told through the stories of three generations of Inuit women, and each has her own engaging style of storytelling. With themes of survival, the continued effects of colonialism, and finding one’s place during periods of change, this is a powerful book about the importance of storytelling in preserving culture.
The Lesser Blessed by Richard Van Camp
The Lesser Blessed is a coming of age story about a Dogrib teen growing up in Fort Simmer, Northwest Territories. As Larry navigates growing up, the novel doesn’t shy away from darker subjects such as substance abuse and the continued trauma of residential schools on generations of Indigenous peoples. Amid the pain, however, there is hope and healing, complemented by Richard Van Camp’s lyrical writing style. This is a raw and real look at adolescence in Northern Canada, which you can also stream as a film here.
I hope this list has introduced you to some new authors, or even pointed you to your next summer read. As we celebrate Canada Day, I encourage you to celebrate Canadian authors not only today, but every day of the year.