By Lee Maracle, Cormorant, 269 pages, $24
How to contain in a single story the litany of abuses First Nations people have suffered since Europeans' arrival and not lose the story? In her latest novel, Lee Maracle keeps it together, telling a shifting, multigenerational tale about a single Nuu'Chahlnuth family heading towards a crisis. The frame is a story of a two-headed snake that falls from the front of a neglected longhouse. The snake's restless head, angry that the people have let the longhouse fall into disrepair, feeds on the discord it spreads in the village where Celia lives with her extended family. As the snake wreaks its havoc, Celia's family is forced to remember their old ways as a matter of survival. Maracle does not shy away from the worst social ills pulling the community apart – suicide, alcoholism, and sexual abuse among them – but she denies the fatalistic view, offering room for hope instead.
She of the Mountains
By Vivek Shraya, Arsenal, 173 pages, $18.95
Vivek Shraya's latest novel intertwines two seemingly unrelated stories: the first follows the Hindu deity family of Parvati, Shiva, and Ganesh from Ganesh's creation through his early years; the second, set roughly in the present day, is about a Hindu boy growing up in Edmonton, later moving to Toronto, who identifies as gay only to soon find that word far too constricting. While the young protagonist does fantasize about the bodies of other men, after high school he quickly falls for a woman. What emerges is a queer love story addressing the issue of bisexual erasure ("You're gay" insist gay and straight people alike). Accompanied by Raymond Biesinger's two-colour illustrations, the two stories share the theme of embodiment: the portly, elephant-headed Ganesh and our brown-skinned, sometimes body-dysmorphic protagonist both struggle to be at home in their own skin. So it's a self-love story as well.
By Wendy McGrath, NeWest, 176 pages, $17.95
North East is the follow-up to Wendy McGrath's 2011 novel Santa Rosa and the second book in a planned trilogy set in the inner-city Santa Rosa neighbourhood in 1960s Edmonton. North East stands on its own – no knowledge of Santa Rosa required – though readers who enjoyed the previous novel will be pleased by the similar fare in McGrath's latest. Again we see the world through the eyes of young Christine as she strives to glean happiness amidst her parents' troubled marriage in their working-class household. McGrath eschews nostalgia but equally does not overplay the story's darker aspects. Christine is at the age where she is just learning to read and the prose is appropriately poetic in its freewheeling wordplay and synaesthetic associations. The focus is less the story than crystalline moments of poetic clarity – it rewards contemplative reading rather than a blow-through.