Books Set In Canada: Canadian Novels
Canadian literature is as diverse (and far-reaching) as the country itself! This list of books set in Canada aims to capture this diversity, and covers a wide range of genres. Below you’ll find everything from classics through to contemporary fiction, written from all manner of perspectives. 🇨🇦
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The most well-known Canadian author is perhaps Margaret Atwood. Her works such as The Edible Woman, The Handmaid’s Tale (not actually set in Canada, but notable nonetheless!), Cat’s Eye, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin (my most recent read) and Oryx and Crake are included below.
Many notable authors also have multiple books set in Canada listed below, including L.M. Montgomery, Robertson Davies, Alice Munro, Carol Shields, Jane Urquhart, Barbara Gowdy, Gail Anderson-Dargatz, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Joseph Boyden, Kim Thúy, Richard Wagamese and Miriam Toews.
I really hope you enjoy these books set in Canada and are transported to this vast country through literature. If you have any further book recommendations, please let me know in the comments below! 🙏
Books Set In Canada: The Shortlist
If you’re short on time, here are 10 notable picks from the much longer list below:
- Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro, 1971
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, 1985
- Disappearing Moon Café by Sky Lee, 1991
- A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews, 2004
- The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, 2007
- Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott, 2008
- A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, 2013
- All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews, 2014
- Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien, 2016
- The Boat People by Sharon Bala, 2018
Books Set In Canada
1. White Fang by Jack London, 1905
White Fang is part dog and part wolf, and the lone survivor of his family. In his lonely world, he soon learns to follow the harsh law of the North – kill or be killed. But nothing in White Fang’s life can prepare him for the cruel owner who turns him into a vicious killer. Will White Fang ever know the kindness of a gentle master?
2. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, 1908
As soon as Anne Shirley arrives at the snug white farmhouse called Green Gables, she is sure she wants to stay forever… but will the Cuthberts send her back to to the orphanage? Anne knows she’s not what they expected—a skinny girl with fiery red hair and a temper to match. If only she can convince them to let her stay, she’ll try very hard not to keep rushing headlong into scrapes and blurting out the first thing that comes to her mind. Anne is not like anyone else, the Cuthberts agree; she is special—a girl with an enormous imagination. Note: this book is followed by eight other works in this series.
3. Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town by Stephen Leacock, 1912
Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town is a sequence of stories by the celebrated humorist Stephen Leacock. As funny, relevant, and insightful today as when it was first published more than a century ago, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town presents a vibrant and unforgettable portrait of the delightful citizens of the fictional small town of Mariposa, Ontario.
4. The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery, 1926
An unforgettable story of courage and romance. Will Valancy Stirling ever escape her strict family and find true love? Valancy Stirling is 29, unmarried, and has never been in love. Living with her overbearing mother and meddlesome aunt, she finds her only consolation in the “forbidden” books of John Foster and her daydreams of the Blue Castle–a place where all her dreams come true and she can be who she truly wants to be.
5. As for Me and My House by Sinclair Ross, 1941
The town is Horizon, the setting of Sinclair Ross’ brilliant classic study of life in the Depression era. Hailed by critics as one of Canada’s great novels, As For Me and My House takes the form of a journal. The unnamed diarist, one of the most complex and arresting characters in contemporary fiction, explores the bittersweet nature of human relationships, of the unspoken bonds that tie people together, and the undercurrents of feeling that often tear them apart.
6. The Tin Flute by Gabrielle Roy, 1945
The Tin Flute, Gabrielle Roy’s first novel, is a classic of Canadian fiction. Imbued with Roy’s unique brand of compassion and compelling understanding, this moving story focuses on a family in the Saint-Henri slums of Montreal, its struggles to overcome poverty and ignorance, and its search for love.
7. Mrs. Mike by Benedict Freedman, 1947
A moving love story set in the Canadian wilderness, Mrs. Mike is a classic tale that has enchanted millions of readers worldwide. It brings the fierce, stunning landscape of the Great North to life—and tenderly evokes the love that blossoms between Sergeant Mike Flannigan and beautiful young Katherine Mary O’Fallon.
8. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler, 1959
Duddy – the third generation of a Jewish immigrant family in Montreal – is combative, amoral, scheming, a liar, and totally hilarious. From his street days tormenting teachers at the Jewish academy to his time hustling four jobs at once in a grand plan to “be somebody,” Duddy learns about living – and the lesson is an outrageous roller-coaster ride through the human comedy.
9. Never Cry Wolf: The Amazing True Story of Life Among Arctic Wolves by Farley Mowat, 1963
More than a half-century ago the naturalist Farley Mowat was sent to investigate why wolves were killing arctic caribou. Mowat’s account of the summer he lived in the frozen tundra alone – studying the wolf population and developing a deep affection for the wolves (who were of no threat to caribou or man) – is today celebrated as a classic of nature writing, at once a tale of remarkable adventures and indelible record of myths and magic of wolves.
10. The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence, 1964
In her best-loved novel, The Stone Angel, Margaret Laurence introduces Hagar Shipley, one of the most memorable characters in Canadian fiction. Stubborn, querulous, self-reliant – and, at ninety, with her life nearly behind her – Hagar Shipley makes a bold last step towards freedom and independence.
This series is followed by the titles A Jest of God, The Fire-Dwellers,
A Bird in the House and The Diviners.
11. Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen, 1966
One of the best-known experimental novels of the 1960s, Beautiful Losers is Cohen’s most defiant and uninhibited work. The novel centres upon the hapless members of a love triangle united by their sexual obsessions and by their fascination with Catherine Tekakwitha, the 17th-century Mohawk saint.
12. I Heard The Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven, 1967
In a world that knows too well the anguish inherent in the clash of old ways and new lifestyles, Margaret Craven’s classic and timeless story of a young man’s journey into the Pacific Northwest is as relevant today as ever. Here amid the grandeur of British Columbia stands the village of Kingcome, a place of salmon runs and ancient totems – a village so steeped in time that, according to Kwakiutl legend, it was founded by two brothers left on earth after the great flood.
13. The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood, 1969
Marian is determined to be ordinary. She lays her head gently on the shoulder of her serious fiancé and quietly awaits marriage. But she didn’t count on an inner rebellion that would rock her stable routine, and her digestion. Marriage a la mode, Marian discovers, is something she literally can’t stomach… The Edible Woman is a funny, engaging novel about emotional cannibalism, men and women, and the desire to be consumed.
14. Fifth Business by Robertson Davies, 1970
Ramsay is a man twice born, a man who has returned from the hell of the battle-grave at Passchendaele in World War I decorated with the Victoria Cross and destined to be caught in a no man’s land where memory, history, and myth collide. As Ramsay tells his story, it begins to seem that from boyhood, he has exerted a perhaps mystical, perhaps pernicious, influence on those around him.
This book is followed by The Manticore and World of Wonders.
15. Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro, 1971
The only novel from Alice Munro – award-winning author of The Love of a Good Woman – is an insightful, honest book, “autobiographical in form but not in fact,” that chronicles a young girl’s growing up in rural Ontario in the 1940s. Del Jordan lives out at the end of the Flats Road on her father’s fox farm, where her most frequent companions are an eccentric bachelor family friend and her rough younger brother.
16. The Wars by Timothy Findley, 1977
Robert Ross, a sensitive nineteen-year-old Canadian officer, went to war – the War to End All Wars. He found himself in the nightmare world of trench warfare; of mud and smoke, of chlorine gas and rotting corpses. In this world gone mad, Robert Ross performed a last desperate act to declare his commitment to life in the midst of death.
Note: This book starts in Canada, but then moves abroad.
17. Obasan by Joy Kogawa, 1981
Obasan is the moving story of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War, told through the eyes of a child. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, five-year-old Naomi’s life is changed forever. Separated from her mother, she watches bewildered as she and her family become enemy aliens, persecuted and despised in their own land.
18. The Rebel Angels (The Cornish Trilogy #1) by Robertson Davies, 1981
Defrocked monks, mad professors, and wealthy eccentrics – a remarkable cast peoples Robertson Davies’ brilliant spectacle of theft, perjury, murder, scholarship, and love at a modern university. Only Mr. Davies, author of Fifth Business, The Manticore, and World of Wonders, could have woven together their destinies with such wit, humour-and wisdom.
19. When Calls the Heart by Janette Oke, 1983
Nothing in her cultured East Coast upbringing prepared Elizabeth for a teaching position on the Canadian frontier. Yet, despite the constant hardships, she loves the children in her care. Determined to do the best job she can and fighting to survive the harsh land, Elizabeth is surprised to find her heart softening towards a certain member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
20. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, 1985
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Note: this book is not set in Canada, but was written by one of Canada’s most notable authors – so is impossible to leave off this list!
21. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, 1986
Brian is on his way to Canada to visit his estranged father when the pilot of his small prop plane suffers a heart attack. Brian is forced to crash-land the plane in a lake – and finds himself stranded in the remote Canadian wilderness with only his clothing and the hatchet his mother gave him as a present before his departure.
22. In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje, 1987
Bristling with intelligence and shimmering with romance, this novel tests the boundary between history and myth. Patrick Lewis arrives in Toronto in the 1920s and earns his living searching for a vanished millionaire and tunneling beneath Lake Ontario. In the course of his adventures, Patrick’s life intersects with those of characters who reappear in Ondaatje’s Booker Prize-winning The English Patient.
23. Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood, 1988
Cat’s Eye is the story of Elaine Risley, a controversial painter who returns to Toronto, the city of her youth, for a retrospective of her art. Engulfed by vivid images of the past, she reminisces about a trio of girls who initiated her into the fierce politics of childhood and its secret world of friendship, longing, and betrayal. Elaine must come to terms with her own identity as a daughter, a lover, and artist, and woman—but above all she must seek release from her haunting memories.
24. The Sky Is Falling by Kit Pearson, 1989
It is the summer of 1940, and all of England fears an invasion by Hitler’s army. Norah lies in bed listening to the anxious voices of her parents downstairs. Then Norah is told that she and her brother, Gavin, are being sent to Canada. The voyage across the ocean is exciting, but at the end of it Norah is miserable. The rich woman who takes them in prefers Gavin to her, the children at school taunt her, and as the news from England becomes worse, she longs for home.
25. Disappearing Moon Café by Sky Lee, 1991
Sometimes funny, sometimes scandalous, always compelling, this extraordinary first novel chronicles the women of the Wong family from frontier railroad camps to modern-day Vancouver. As past sins and inborn strengths are passed on from mother to daughter to granddaughter, each generation confronts, in its own way, the same problems — isolation, racism, and the clash of cultures.
26. Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King, 1993
Strong, Sassy women and hard-luck hardheaded men, all searching for the middle ground between Native American tradition and the modern world, perform an elaborate dance of approach and avoidance in this magical, rollicking tale by Cherokee author Thomas King.
27. The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields, 1993
The Stone Diaries is one ordinary woman’s story of her journey through life. Born in 1905, Daisy Stone Goodwill drifts through the roles of child, wife, widow, and mother, and finally into her old age. Bewildered by her inability to understand her place in her own life, Daisy attempts to find a way to tell her story within a novel that is itself about the limitations of autobiography.
28. Away by Jane Urquhart, 1993
A stunning, evocative novel set in Ireland and Canada, Awaytraces a family’s complex and layered past. The narrative unfolds with shimmering clarity, and takes us from the harsh northern Irish coast in the 1840s to the quarantine stations at Grosse Isle and the barely hospitable land of the Canadian Shield; from the flourishing town of Port Hope to the flooded streets of Montreal; from Ottawa at the time of Confederation to a large-windowed house at the edge of a Great Lake during the present day.
29. The Shipping News by Annie Proulx, 1993
When Quoyle’s two-timing wife meets her just deserts, he retreats with his two daughters to his ancestral home on the starkly beautiful Newfoundland coast, where a rich cast of local characters and family members all play a part in Quoyle’s struggle to reclaim his life.
30. The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy, 1995
Chinatown, Vancouver, in the late 1930s and ’40s provides the backdrop for this poignant first novel, told through the vivid reminiscences of the three younger children of an immigrant Chinese family. The siblings grapple with their individual identities in a changing world, wresting autonomy from the strictures of history, family, and poverty.
31. Mister Sandman by Barbara Gowdy, 1995
Barbara Gowdy’s outrageous, hilarious, disturbing, and compassionate novel is about the Canary family, their immoderate passions and eccentricities, and their secret lives and histories. The deepest secret of all is harbored in the silence of the youngest daughter, Joan, who doesn’t grow, who doesn’t speak, but who can play the piano like Mozart though she’s never had a lesson.
32. The Cure for Death by Lightning by Gail Anderson-Dargatz, 1996
The Cure for Death by Lightning takes place in the poor, isolated farming community of Turtle Valley, British Columbia, in the shadow of the Second World War. The fifteenth summer of Beth Weeks’s life is full of strange happenings: a classmate is mauled to death; children go missing on the nearby reserve; an unseen predator pursues Beth. She is surrounded by unusual characters, including Nora, the sensual half-Native girl whose friendship provides refuge; Filthy Billy, the hired hand with Tourette’s Syndrome; and Nora’s mother, who has a man’s voice and an extra little finger.
33. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, 1996
It’s 1843, and Grace Marks has been convicted for her involvement in the vicious murders of her employer and his housekeeper and mistress. Some believe Grace is innocent; others think her evil or insane. Now serving a life sentence, Grace claims to have no memory of the murders. An up-and-coming expert in the burgeoning field of mental illness is engaged by a group of reformers and spiritualists who seek a pardon for Grace. He listens to her story while bringing her closer and closer to the day she cannot remember. What will he find in attempting to unlock her memories?
34. Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald, 1996
They are the Pipers of Cape Breton Island — a family steeped in lies and unspoken truths that reach out from the past, forever mindful of the tragic secret that could shatter the family to its foundations. Chronicling five generations of this eccentric clan, Fall on Your Knees follows four remarkable sisters whose lives are filled with driving ambition, inescapable family bonds, and forbidden love. Their experiences will take them from their stormswept homeland, across the battlefields of World War I, to the freedom and independence of Jazz-era New York City.
35. Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels, 1996
In 1940 a boy bursts from the mud of a war-torn Polish city, where he has buried himself to hide from the soldiers who murdered his family. His name is Jakob Beer. He is only seven years old. And although by all rights he should have shared the fate of the other Jews in his village, he has not only survived but been rescued by a Greek geologist, who does not recognize the boy as human until he begins to cry. With this electrifying image, Anne Michaels ushers us into her rapturously acclaimed novel of loss, memory, history, and redemption.
Note: only part of this novel is set in Toronto, Canada.
36. Déjà Dead by Kathy Reichs, 1997
Her life is devoted to justice; for those she never even knew. In the year since Temperance Brennan left behind a shaky marriage in North Carolina, work has often preempted her weekend plans to explore Quebec. When a female corpse is discovered meticulously dismembered and stashed in trash bags, Temperance detects an alarming pattern and she plunges into a harrowing search for a killer.
Note: there are nearly 20 other titles in this series.
37. The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston, 1998
In 1949, Joseph Smallwood became the first premier of the newly federated Canadian province of Newfoundland. Predictably, and almost immediately, his name retreated to the footnotes of history. And yet, as Wayne Johnston makes plain in his epic and affectionate fifth novel, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, Smallwood’s life was endearingly emblematic, an instance of an extraordinary man emerging at a propitious moment.
38. A Recipe for Bees by Gail Anderson-Dargatz, 1998
In A Recipe for Bees, Gail Anderson-Dargatz gives readers a remarkable woman to stand beside Hagar Shipley and Daisy Goodwin — but Augusta Olsen also has attitude, a wicked funny bone, and the dubious gift of second sight. At home in Courtenay, B.C., Augusta anxiously awaits news of her dearly loved son-in-law Gabe, who is undergoing brain surgery miles away in Victoria.
39. No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod, 1999
Generations after their forebears went into exile, the MacDonalds still face seemingly unmitigated hardships and cruelties of life. Alexander, orphaned as a child by a horrific tragedy, has nevertheless gained some success in the world. Even his older brother, Calum, a nearly destitute alcoholic living on Toronto’s skid row, has been scarred by another tragedy.
40. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, 2000
It opens with these simple, resonant words: “Ten days after the war ended, my sister drove a car off the bridge.” They are spoken by Iris, whose terse account of her sister Laura’s death in 1945 is followed by an inquest report proclaiming the death accidental. But just as the reader expects to settle into Laura’s story, Atwood introduces a novel-within-a-novel. Entitled The Blind Assassin, it is a science fiction story told by two unnamed lovers who meet in dingy backstreet rooms. When we return to Iris, it is through a 1947 newspaper article announcing the discovery of a sailboat carrying the dead body of her husband, a distinguished industrialist.
41. Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson, 2000
Five hundred miles north of Vancouver is Kitamaat, an Indian reservation in the homeland of the Haisla people. Growing up a tough, wild tomboy, swimming, fighting, and fishing in a remote village where the land slips into the green ocean on the edge of the world, Lisamarie has always been different.
42. Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards, 2000
When twelve-year-old Sidney Henderson pushes his friend Connie off the roof of a local church in a moment of anger, he makes a silent vow: Let Connie live and I will never harm another soul. At that very moment, Connie stands, laughs, and walks away. Sidney keeps his promise through adulthood despite the fact that his insular, rural community uses his pacifism to exploit him.
43. Stanley Park by Timothy Taylor, 2001
Trained in France, Jeremy Papier, the young Vancouver chef, is becoming known for his unpretentious dishes that highlight fresh, local ingredients. His restaurant, The Monkey’s Paw Bistro, while struggling financially, is attracting the attention of local foodies, and is not going unnoticed by Dante Beale, owner of a successful coffeehouse chain, Dante’s Inferno.
44. Life of Pi by Yann Martel, 2001
Life of Pi is a fantasy adventure novel by Yann Martel published in 2001. The protagonist, Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, a Tamil boy from Pondicherry, explores issues of spirituality and practicality from an early age. He survives 227 days after a shipwreck while stranded on a boat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
Note: only part of this novel takes place in Canada, where the author lives.
45. Bitten by Kelley Armstrong, 2001
Elena Michaels is the world’s only female werewolf. And she’s tired of it. Tired of a life spent hiding and protecting, a life where her most important job is hunting down rogue werewolves. Tired of a world that not only accepts the worst in her–her temper, her violence–but requires it. Worst of all, she realizes she’s growing content with that life, with being that person. So she left the Pack and returned to Toronto where she’s trying to live as a human.
46. Unless by Carol Shields, 2002
Reta Winters, 44-year-old successful author of light summertime fiction, has always considered herself happy, even blessed. That is, until her oldest daughter Norah mysteriously drops out of college to become a panhandler on a Toronto street corner – silent, with a sign around her neck bearing the word “Goodness.”
47. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, 2003
Oryx and Crake is at once an unforgettable love story and a compelling vision of the future. Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved.
This book series is followed by The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam.
48. The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald, 2003
The optimism of the early sixties, infused with the excitement of the space race and the menace of the Cold War, is filtered through the rich imagination of high-spirited, eight-year-old Madeleine, who welcomes her family’s posting to a quiet Air Force base near the Canadian border. Secure in the love of her beautiful mother, she is unaware that her father, Jack, is caught up in a web of secrets.
49. The Romantic by Barbara Gowdy, 2003
Louise Kirk learns about love and loss at an early age. When she is nine years old, her former beauty queen mother disappears, leaving a note that reads only – and incorrectly – “Louise knows how to work the washing machine.” Soon after, the Richters and their adopted son, Abel, move in across the street. Louise’s immediate devotion to the exotic, motherly Mrs. Richter is quickly transferred to her nature-loving, precociously intelligent son.
50. A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews, 2004
“Half of our family, the better-looking half, is missing,” Nomi Nickel tells us at the beginning of A Complicated Kindness. Left alone with her sad, peculiar father, her days are spent piecing together why her mother and sister have disappeared and contemplating her inevitable career at Happy Family Farms, a chicken slaughterhouse on the outskirts of East Village. Not the East Village in New York City where Nomi would prefer to live, but an oppressive town founded by Mennonites on the cold, flat plains of Manitoba, Canada.
51. Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden, 2005
It is 1919, and Niska, the last Oji-Cree woman to live off the land, has received word that one of the two boys she saw off to the Great War has returned. Xavier Bird, her sole living relation, is gravely wounded and addicted to morphine. As Niska slowly paddles her canoe on the three-day journey to bring Xavier home, travelling through the stark but stunning landscape of Northern Ontario, their respective stories emerge—stories of Niska’s life among her kin and of Xavier’s horrifying experiences in the killing fields of Ypres and the Somme.
This book is followed by Through Black Spruce (below) and The Orenda.
52. Still Life by Louise Penny, 2005
As the early morning mist clears on Thanksgiving Sunday, the homes of Three Pines come to life – all except one… To locals, the village is a safe haven. So they are bewildered when a well-loved member of the community is found lying dead in the maple woods. Surely it was an accident – a hunter’s arrow gone astray. Who could want Jane Neal dead?
53. The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney, 2006
The year is 1867. Winter has just tightened its grip on Dove River, a tiny isolated settlement in the Northern Territory, when a man is brutally murdered. Laurent Jammett had been a voyageur for the Hudson Bay Company before an accident lamed him four years earlier. The same accident afforded him the little parcel of land in Dove River, land that the locals called unlucky due to the untimely death of the previous owner.
54. The Birth House by Ami McKay, 2006
The Birth House is the story of Dora Rare, the first daughter to be born in five generations of the Rare family. As a child in an isolated village in Nova Scotia, she is drawn to Miss Babineau, an outspoken Acadian midwife with a gift for healing and a kitchen filled with herbs and folk remedies.
55. Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill, 2006
A gritty, heart-wrenching novel about bruised innocence on the city’s feral streets—the remarkable debut of a stunning literary talent. Heather O’Neill dazzles with a first novel of extraordinary prescience and power, a subtly understated yet searingly effective story of a young life on the streets—and the strength, wits, and luck necessary for survival.
56. The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson, 2006
Two brothers, Arthur and Jake Dunn, are the sons of a farmer in the mid-1930s, when life is tough and another world war is looming. Arthur is reticent, solid, dutiful and set to inherit the farm and his father’s character; Jake is younger, attractive, mercurial and dangerous to know – the family misfit. When a beautiful young woman comes into the community, the fragile balance of sibling rivalry tips over the edge.
57. The Penguin Book of Canadian Short Stories by Jane Urquhart, 2007
This stunning collection of 60 stories – over a century’s worth of the best Canadian literature by an extraordinary array of our finest writers – has been selected and is introduced by award-winning writer Jane Urquhart.
58. The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, 2007
Based on a true story, “The Book of Negroes” tells the story of Aminata, a young girl abducted from her village in Mali aged 11 in 1755, and who, after a deathly journey on a slave ship where she witnesses the brutal repression of a slave revolt, is sold to a plantation owner in South Carolina, who rapes her. She is brought to New York, where she escapes her owner, and finds herself helping the British by recording all the freed slaves on the British side in the Revolutionary War in The Book of Negroes (a real historical document that can be found today at the National Archives at Kew). Aminata is sent to Nova Scotia to start a new life, but finds more hostility, oppression and tragedy.
59. Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay, 2007
Harry Boyd, a hard-bitten refugee from failure in Toronto television, has returned to a small radio station in the Canadian North. There, in Yellowknife, in the summer of 1975, he falls in love with a voice on air, though the real woman, Dido Paris, is both a surprise and even more than he imagined.
60. The End of East by Jen Sookfong Lee, 2007
A moving portrait of three generations of the Chan family living in Vancouver’s Chinatown. Sammy Chan was sure she’d escaped her family obligations when she fled Vancouver six years ago, but with her sister’s upcoming marriage, her turn has come to care for their aging mother. Abandoned by all four of her older sisters, jobless and stuck in a city she resents, Sammy finds herself cobbling together a makeshift family history and delving into stories that began in 1913, when her grandfather, Seid Quan, then eighteen years old, first stepped on Canadian soil.
61. The Outlander by Gil Adamson, 2007
In 1903 a mysterious young woman flees alone across the West, one heart-pounding step ahead of the law. At nineteen, Mary Boulton has just become a widow—and her husband’s killer. As bloodhounds track her frantic race toward the mountains, she is tormented by mad visions and by the knowledge that her two ruthless brothers-in-law are in pursuit, determined to avenge their younger brother’s death.
62. Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott, 2008
Shortlisted for Canada’s prestigious Giller Prize, this “profoundly humane novel” wrings suspense and humor out of the everyday choices we make, revealing the delicate balance between sacrifice and self-interest, doing good and being good. Clara Purdy is at a crossroads. At forty-three, she is divorced, living in her late parents’ house, and near-ing her twentieth year as a claims adjuster at a local insurance firm. Driving to the bank during her lunch hour, she crashes into a sharp left turn, taking the Gage family in the other car with her.
63. Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden, 2008
Will Bird is a legendary Cree bush pilot, now lying in a coma in a hospital in his hometown of Moose Factory, Ontario. His niece Annie Bird, beautiful and self-reliant, has returned from her own perilous journey to sit beside his bed. Broken in different ways, the two take silent communion in their unspoken kinship, and the story that unfolds is rife with heartbreak, fierce love, ancient blood feuds, mysterious disappearances, fires, plane crashes, murders, and the bonds that hold a family, and a people, together.
64. February by Lisa Moore, 2009
In 1982, the oil rig Ocean Ranger sank off the coast of Newfoundland during a Valentine’s Day storm. All eighty-four men aboard died. February is the story of Helen O’Mara, one of those left behind when her husband, Cal, drowns on the rig. It begins in the present-day, more than twenty-five years later, but spirals back again and again to the “February” that persists in Helen’s mind and heart.
65. Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro, 2009
In these ten stories, Canadian short-story writer Alice Munro once again renders complex, difficult events and emotions into stories that shed light on the unpredictable ways in which men and women accommodate and often transcend what happens in their lives.
66. The Heart Specialist by Claire Holden Rothman, 2009
Set in Quebec at the turn of the 20th century, The Heart Specialistis the epic story of Agnes White, a lonely orphaned girl fascinated by the “wrong” things—microscopes, dissections, and anatomy instead of more ladylike interests—who rises to the status of one of the world’s most celebrated pioneering women doctors. Not only does she break through patriarchal academic barriers; she masters the science of the human heart, becoming a scholar of international fame, all in a place and time inimical to intelligent women.
67. Under This Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell, 2009
In the spring of 1938, Teodor Mykolayenko returns to his family after nearly two years in prison for the crime of trying to feed them. Given shelter by his sister Anna, his wife, Maria, and their five children barely survived on the harsh and brutal Canadian prairie landscape. Channelling a determination gained from escaping starvation and Stalin’s crimes in the Ukraine, Teodor is committed to making a home.
68. Annabel by Kathleen Winter, 2010
Award-winning Canadian author Kathleen Winter’s Annabel is a stunning debut novel about the family of a mixed-gendered child born into a rural hunting community in the 1960s. Kathleen Winter’s luminous debut novel is a deeply affecting portrait of life in an enchanting seaside town and the trials of growing up unique in a restrictive environment.
69. Tell It to the Trees by Anita Rau Badami, 2011
One freezing winter morning a dead body is found in the backyard of the Dharma family’s house. It’s the body of Anu Krishnan. For Anu, a writer seeking a secluded retreat from the city, the Dharmas’ “back-house” in the sleepy mountain town of Merrit’s Point was the ideal spot to take a year off and begin writing. She had found the Dharmas’ rental through a happy coincidence.
70. Shelter by Frances Greenslade, 2011
A spellbinding and wise coming-of-age story, Shelter draws readers into the precarious world of two young sisters in search of their mother, and brings to life the breathtaking B.C. landscape through which they travel. Maggie Dillon lives with her family in a small, roughly furnished cabin in B.C.’s Chilcotin region, where the land and the native peoples who’ve always called it home have taken in both pioneer settlers and latecomers like the Dillons.
71. Ru by Kim Thúy, 2012
Ru. In Vietnamese it means lullaby; in French it is a small stream, but also signifies a flow – of tears, blood, money. Kim Thúy’s Ru is literature at its most crystalline: the flow of a life on the tides of unrest and on to more peaceful waters. In vignettes of exquisite clarity, sharp observation and sly wit, we are carried along on an unforgettable journey from a palatial residence in Saigon to a crowded and muddy Malaysian refugee camp, and onward to a new life in Quebec.
72. Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese, 2012
Saul Indian Horse has hit bottom. His last binge almost killed him, and now he’s a reluctant resident in a treatment centre for alcoholics, surrounded by people he’s sure will never understand him. But Saul wants peace, and he grudgingly comes to see that he’ll find it only through telling his story. With him, readers embark on a journey back through the life he’s led as a northern Ojibway, with all its joys and sorrows.
73. Dear Life by Alice Munro, 2012
Suffused with Munro’s clarity of vision and her unparalleled gift for storytelling, these tales about departures and beginnings, accidents and dangers, and outgoings and homecomings both imagined and real, paint a radiant, indelible portrait of how strange, perilous, and extraordinary ordinary life can be.
74. Y by Marjorie Celona, 2012
Y. That perfect letter. The wishbone, fork in the road, empty wine glass. The question we ask over and over. Why? My life begins at the Y. So begins the story of Shannon, a newborn baby dumped at the doors of the YMCA, swaddled in a dirty grey sweatshirt with nothing but a Swiss Army knife. She is found moments later by a man who catches a mere glimpse of her troubled mother as she disappears from view. All three lives are forever changed by the single decision.
75. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, 2013
In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying, but before she ends it all, Nao plans to document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in a ways she can scarcely imagine.
Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.
Note: this one is set between Canada and Japan.
76. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, 2014
Set in the days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity. One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve.
Note: this one is set between Toronto and Michigan.
77. All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews, 2014
You won’t forget Elf and Yoli, two smart and loving sisters. Elfrieda, a world-renowned pianist, glamorous, wealthy, happily married: she wants to die. Yolandi, divorced, broke, sleeping with the wrong men as she tries to find true love: she desperately wants to keep her older sister alive. Yoli is a beguiling mess, wickedly funny even as she stumbles through life struggling to keep her teenage kids and mother happy, her exes from hating her, her sister from killing herself and her own heart from breaking.
78. Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese, 2014
Franklin Starlight is called to visit his father, Eldon. He’s sixteen years old and has had the most fleeting of relationships with the man. The rare moments they’ve shared haunt and trouble Frank, but he answers the call, a son’s duty to a father. He finds Eldon decimated after years of drinking, dying of liver failure in a small town flophouse. Eldon asks his son to take him into the mountains, so he may be buried in the traditional Ojibway manner.
79. The Age by Nancy Lee, 2014
The Age, Nancy Lee’s electrifying debut novel, follows her celebrated story collection Dead Girls. Set in Vancouver in 1984 as Soviet warships swarm the Atlantic, The Age tells the story of Gerry, a troubled teenager whose life is suddenly and strangely catapulted into adulthood.
80. Vi by Kim Thúy, 2016
The youngest of four children and the only girl, Vi was given a name that meant “precious, tiny one,” destined to be cosseted and protected, the family’s little treasure.Daughter of an enterprising mother and a wealthy and spoiled father who never had to grow up, the Vietnam war tears their family asunder. While Vi and many of her family members escape, her father stays behind, and her family must fend for themselves in Canada.
81. The Spawning Grounds by Gail Anderson-Dargatz, 2016
The long-awaited new novel by the two-time Giller-shortlisted author is full of the qualities Gail Anderson-Dargatz’s fans love: it’s an intimate family saga rooted in the Thompson-Shuswap region of British Columbia, and saturated with the history of the place. A bold new story that bridges Native and white cultures across a bend in a river where the salmon run.
82. Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien, 2016
Master storyteller Madeleine Thien takes us inside an extended family in China, showing us the lives of two successive generations—those who lived through Mao’s Cultural Revolution and their children, who became the students protesting in Tiananmen Square. At the center of this epic story are two young women, Marie and Ai-Ming. Through their relationship Marie strives to piece together the tale of her fractured family in present-day Vancouver, seeking answers in the fragile layers of their collective story.
83. The Boat People by Sharon Bala, 2018
When a rusty cargo ship carrying Mahindan and five hundred fellow refugees from Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war reaches Vancouver’s shores, the young father thinks he and his six-year-old son can finally start a new life. Instead, the group is thrown into a detention processing center, with government officials and news headlines speculating that among the “boat people” are members of a separatist militant organization responsible for countless suicide attacks—and that these terrorists now pose a threat to Canada’s national security.
84. That Time I Loved You by Carrianne Leung, 2018
The suburbs of the 1970s promised to be heaven on earth—new houses, new status, happiness guaranteed. But in a Scarborough subdivision populated by newcomers from all over the world, a series of sudden catastrophic events reveals that not everyone’s dreams come true. Moving from house to house, Carrianne Leung explores the inner lives behind the tidy front gardens and picture-perfect windows, always returning to June, an irrepressible adolescent Chinese-Canadian coming of age in this shifting world.
85. Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice, 2018
With winter looming, a small northern Anishinaabe community loses communication. Days later, it goes dark. Cut off from the urban realm of the south, many of its people become passive and confused. They eventually descend into panic as the food supply dwindles, with few hunters left in the First Nation. While the band council and a pocket of community members struggle to maintain order, an unexpected visitor arrives from a city in the south to escape a crumbling society.
What do you think of these books set in Canada?
Have some great books set in Canada that you think should be included? Do you call Canada home? Are you planning a trip to Canada soon? Have any travel or bookstore tips for readers visiting? I’d love to hear about more about your own travels and tips for books set in Canada in the comments below! 🙌
Looking for more reading ideas?
If you’re looking for more books set around North America, see some of these popular posts: