Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez

Scarborough centers around a publicly funded literacy program in Southern Ontario. The educators, the parents and the children attending are the focus of the story as the author shifts perspectives from each family in an effort to dig deeper into a struggling low-income community.

This was a tough read. It’s not a long book, but what it lacks in length, it makes up for in emotional weight. The families profiled are seemingly all trying to keep their heads above water in one way or another. Whether they’re running from trauma, dealing with a broken healthcare system, finding a way to make ends meet or just searching for the strength to get through another day, the people in Catherine Hernandez’s novel reach through the pages and rip your heart out.

While I’ve only ever been to Scarborough in passing, I wouldn’t say you need a connection to this specific neighborhood to find a connection with the characters. I saw a lot of my hometown in these pages. I come from a low-income family myself and while many of these experiences are far worse than my own, I definitely felt a sense of commonality. Hernandez’s writing gave off a sense of authenticity that had me believing she had gone through a similar experience, or at least is closely connected with those who have.

I can see Scarborough going deep into this year’s Canada Reads competition and maybe even winning, but it definitely has stiff competition in the other novels. If anything, Scarborough forces the reader to recognize that there are many families out there that are struggling to get by on a day-to-day basis and that appearances can often be deceiving. We should all strive to be kinder and look to offer a helping hand when we can.

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