Recommendations by Karen B

Biographies and Memoirs

This month, our library Reading Challenge is looking at books about real people, i.e. memoirs and biographies. People read memoirs for different reasons. Sometimes we want to be inspired, such as with Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Sometimes we want to know more about an unusual experience, such as Tara Westover’s survivalist and dysfunctional upbringing in Educated. And sometimes we just want to have the inside scoop on someone’s childhood or development to give us some insight on their success, failure or fame, such as with Becoming by Michele Obama. 

Today, I’m highlighting several inspirational Canadian stories of strength and survival despite tremendous loss, trauma or adversity.

Crossroads book coverCrossroads: my story of tragedy and resilience as a Humboldt Bronco by Kaleb Dahlgren

On April 6, 2018, Canadians across the country were stunned to hear the news of a major traffic collision in Saskatchewan in which more than half the members of the Humboldt Broncos, a junior hockey team, were killed. Kaleb Dahlgren was one of the survivors. Crossroads recounts his experience of loss, as well as resilience, in overcoming this tragedy and several earlier adversities.


My Daughter Rehtaeh Parsons book coverMy daughter Rehtaeh Parsons by Glen Canning

Rehtaeh Parsons was a gifted teenager with boundless curiosity and a love for family, science, and the natural world. She was also the victim of sexual assault and cyberbullying and died by suicide in 2013. But her story didn't die with her. Rehtaeh's death shone a searing light on attitudes toward issues of consent and sexual assault. It also led to legislation on cyberbullying, a review of mental health services for teens, and an overhaul of how Canadian schools deal with cyber exploitation.

Written by her father, Glen Canning, My Daughter Rehtaeh Parsons offers an unsparing look at Rehtaeh's story, the social forces that enable and perpetuate violence and misogyny among teenagers, and parental love amid horrendous loss.


Black Water book coverBlack Water : family, legacy, and blood memory by David Robertson

In this bestselling memoir, a son who grew up away from his Indigenous culture takes his Cree father on a trip to the family trapline and finds that revisiting the past not only heals old wounds but creates a new future.

Those who were touched by 2020 Canada Reads Nominee, From the Ashes by Jess Thistle, will be inspired by this account of discovery and hope.


The Scientist and the Psychic book coverThe scientist and the psychic : a son's exploration of his mother's gift by Christian Smith

Christian Smith is a neuroscientist at the Brain Tumour Research Centre in Toronto, and the son of a famous psychic. This memoir explores his understanding of his mother’s abilities, her struggle with illness and addiction, and their healing relationship. The Scientist and the Psychic is a fascinating, one-of-a-kind true story of belief, skepticism and familial love.


If I Knew Then book coverIf I knew then : finding wisdom in failure and power in aging by Jann Arden

For a lighter look at emotional strength, Jann Arden’s If I Knew Then offers a midlife look at overcoming personal failures and adversities. I love her take on the strength that comes with growing older: 

"What I'm thinking about now aren't all the ways I can try to hang on to my youth or all the seconds ticking by in some kind of morbid countdown to death," she writes, "but rather how I keep becoming someone I always hoped I could be. If I'm lucky one day a very old face will look back at me from the mirror, a face I once shied away from. I will love that old woman ferociously, because she has finally figured out how to live a life of purpose--not in spite of but because of all her mistakes and failures."