The Argus Reads: October

Four books on resilience

Compiled by Sam Mathers, News Editor

  1. Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden

“We all fight on two fronts, the one facing the enemy, the one facing what we do to the enemy.”

PC Kaelan Pelaia

Why You Should Read It: A beautiful and heart-wrenching novel, Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden tells the story of Niska, an Ojibwe woman living in the northern territories, who receives word that her sole living relation, Xavier Bird, has returned from the Great War addicted to morphine. The story follows the pair on a three-day boat ride back to their family’s home, with Xavier struggling to come to terms with the horrors suffered in the war, and Niska trying to reconnect to her kin. Boyden masterfully weaves a gruesome, yet gorgeous rendition of the struggles of Indigenous peoples in the twentieth century, as well as demonstrates the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder on returning veterans. These themes are especially relevant in our modern society, where veterans have inadequate access to mental health services, and where Indigenous peoples still live in the shadow of the crimes of the twentieth century. I cannot recommend this truly Canadian work of art enough.

  • Kaelen Pelaia, Staff Writer
  1. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

“All of them – Hattie and Willie and Evelyn and even ruined, crazy Walter – were little lights; sparks flying upward in dark places, trying to stay alight although they were compelled toward ash.”

PC Sam Mathers

Why You Should Read It: Spanning sixty years, this book is broken into twelve chapters, telling the stories of twelve stunning characters at the most significant moments in their lives. The characters are the children of Hattie Shepherd – her twelve tribes. Though she shows little affection, Hattie makes up for her lack of gentleness with tenacity. Her children wrestle with demons given to them by a mother who loved them in the only way she knew how. Each chapter is vastly different, yet intertwined with all the others in the same way that Hattie’s children are each a unique product of their collective upbringing. Set against the backdrop of the Great Migration, Mathis’ work is a snapshot of the African-American experience in the twentieth century and has been likened with the works of Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, and Toni Morrison. This book is a devastatingly beautiful work of fiction, that at its heart is about love, loss and ultimately, hope.

  • Sam Mathers, News Editor
  1. The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön

“Do I prefer to grow up and relate to life directly, or do I choose to live and die in fear?”

PC Jaina Kelly

Why You Should Read It: In this book, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön details the warrior we have within, and how to access it when we are suffering. She offers tools to go deeper into compassion and release the fear that permeates so much of our waking world. In this compassionate warrior stance, vulnerability is the most powerful weapon for us to develop. Chödrön acknowledges that courage is an innate ability we all have within us. This courage can lead us to live fulfilled, loving lives instead of reaching for the resentment that hardens our spirits.

  • Jaina Kelly, Staff Writer
  1. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

“I’ve tried to imagine how she’d feel knowing that her cells went up in the first space missions to see what would happen to human cells in zero gravity, or that they helped with some of the most important advances in medicine: the polio vaccine, chemotherapy, cloning, gene mapping, invitro fertilization. I’m pretty sure that she – like most of us – would be shocked to hear that there are trillions more of her cells growing in laboratories now than there ever were in her body.”

PC Savanah Tillberg

Why You Should Read It: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is the non-fiction story of a medical hero; a black woman who died of an aggressive form of cervical cancer in the 1950s. Aside from being a wife, sister, friend, and mother of five, Henrietta Lacks was also the “owner” of the HeLa cells—the  first cells scientists were able to reproduce. The book tells three stories: how the cells were taken from her, how they helped advance medical science, and how their existence affected her family. Skloot perfectly encapsulates the complexity of the Lacks family’s life and dynamic following the death of Henrietta and the discovery that her cells were indeed alive 25 years later. They discover that Henrietta’s cells helped to develop current cancer treatments, vaccines, and have been a crucial part in cell research – all the while, the family could not afford their own health care. Skloot reveals the Lacks family’s resilience, particularly that of Henrietta’s youngest daughter, Deborah, while attempting to rise above the racial adversaries and limitations that previously prevented them from knowing the truth about Henrietta’s contributions to medical science.

  • Savanah Tillberg, Arts and Culture Editor