Title: The Break
Author: Katherena Vermette
Publisher: House of Anansi
Publication Date: Septemeber 2016
Synopsis from Goodreads:
When Stella, a young Métis mother, looks out her window one evening and spots someone in trouble on the Break — a barren field on an isolated strip of land outside her house — she calls the police to alert them to a possible crime. In a series of shifting narratives, people who are connected, both directly and indirectly, with the victim — police, family, and friends — tell their personal stories leading up to that fateful night. Lou, a social worker, grapples with the departure of her live-in boyfriend. Cheryl, an artist, mourns the premature death of her sister Rain. Paulina, a single mother, struggles to trust her new partner. Phoenix, a homeless teenager, is released from a youth detention centre. Officer Scott, a Métis policeman, feels caught between two worlds as he patrols the city. Through their various perspectives a larger, more comprehensive story about lives of the residents in Winnipeg’s North End is exposed.
The Break is an incredibly heart-breaking and poignant book about a Métis family in a small Canadian community who are struck by a terrible attack. I’m not sure how to do this book justice in a review, because it was so raw and beautifully sad in it’s portrayal of a young girl who survives a sexual assault and the family–especially the women–that surrounds her and do their best to protect her from further harm. The story is told from many angles, most of them women. Although this terrible act divides members of this small community, the various perspectives enlighten the reader to how they are all connected through similar experiences and tragedies.
The experiences for these women are often oppressive or violent. Vermette shares with the reader the tragic reality of what they face each and every day, yet fills the reader with hope that they can find strength and support in one another, find connection and rootedness through their tradition, and find peace in the end. These are women who are suffering and fighting the cycle of abuse, but they are also full of strength. They have fear, but they also have courage. Through it all, the main family in particular, stand by one another, offering support no matter what’s happening in each of their lives. We see the bonds of women and how it raises them up, but we also see what happens when the women turn against one another and the despair that results.
This novel addresses heavy issues such as abuse, assault, shame, fear, racism, and sexism. Vermette introduces us to a dark world, yet despite this sadness, there is so much hope. This is a book about community and family. It’s so well-written and compelling. The reader is searching for healing as much as the characters. You really can’t put it down. Vermette is an artist with her language, telling a story that needs to be heard and understood. She acknowledges that there are wounds that are difficult to heal and that the lines of justice are not always clear. Shame often impedes admitting something terrible, but forgiveness and love often know no bounds.
The Break is a beautifully written tale from a master storyteller. Vermette deserves a sport among the most talented Canadian writers. I encourage everyone to read this novel.