Book Report: Smoke River

Smoke River by Krista FossWhat’s The Buzz?: It’s a story quite literally ripped from the headlines. In former journalist Krista Foss’ debut novel – a stirring piece of Canadian literature – she tackles the ugliness of Aboriginal land disputes and claims, largely inspired by one such case in Caledonia, ON that took place nearly a decade ago. The book has earned rave reviews from some of the country’s top critics, already positioning freshman writer Foss as one to watch.

What’s The Story?: The plot takes place in a fictional, Southern Ontario town called Doreville. As the book opens, we discover that the Bain family – a pretty picture perfect on the outside couple and their two children – has sunk their money into a piece of land, with plans to build a new residential development. The catch? The land is disputed territory, belonging to a Mohawk tribe. All sides of the issue are examined – from the small town Mayor’s reluctance to back either side, to the motivations and histories of the various Aboriginal characters, to the cracks in the foundation of the Bains’ marriage and children (including their golden boy son, whose patina is severely dulled by the end of the book, and their rebellious daughter, who falls for an Aboriginal boy, to her parents’ extreme chagrin). I won’t say how the story ends, but I will sell you on the fact Foss does an impressive job of colouring in all sides of the situation.

Beach Read Potential?: While on paper, a story based on an Aboriginal land conflict may not seem like the lightest of fare, the story is a lot more than that. It definitely hinges on the dispute, but Foss’ specialty here is creating a widespread, dynamic cast of characters, giving you the reader a voyeuristic glimpse into the most private windows of their lives. In that sense – the town drama alone makes this an enjoyable and surprisingly buoyant read.

What Should I Know Going In?: Chances are you’ve at least seen a headline or two over the years about land claims of different types, but maybe didn’t really look into it or understand what everyone was fighting over. One thing I really appreciated about this book was giving a fair and objective yet empathetic voice to a group and a cause that can sometimes struggle to be heard. Before diving in – or even halfway through – it’s not a bad idea to look into Caledonia or similar cases, to get a feeling for what’s at stake for the characters on either side. It’s not absolutely necessary, but it can definitely help you understand where the story comes from. For the record, Foss has also noted that one of the major and shocking incidences in the book – an assault of an Aboriginal character – is also inspired by her time working as a reporter in Manitoba.

Who Should Read This Book?: If you have an interest in Canada’s Aboriginal culture, history and yes, challenges like land claims, this book is an eye-opening, intriguing look. But beyond that, it actually reminded me quite a bit of JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, in terms of populating a town with a diverse, quirky, real cast of characters that are all linked by this one civic matter.

As always, I’ve got a free copy of Smoke River to give away to a lucky reader. Want to read it? Here’s how to enter for our chance to win:

1) Tell me in the comments below by August 28, 2014 – What do you want to read Smoke River?

2) Entries are limited to one per person / per email address / per household (or more if you score bonus entries). A random draw will be conducted on or around August 29, 2014 to select the winner(s), who will have 48 hours to respond before another winner is chosen in their place.

3) Entries are limited to Canadians that have reached the age of majority in their province. Quebec is not eligible for this promotion.

4) Bonus Entry: Follow Random House of Canada on Twitter, tag them and me (@cdngiftguide) in a Tweet about why you’re keen on reading Krista Foss’ debut novel! Post a link to your Tweet below to earn yourself an extra entry into the draw.

5) Bonus Entry #2: Add this book to your to-read list on GoodReads, and leave a link back to the page it’s on below to earn yourself another bonus entry.


35 Responses to “Book Report: Smoke River”
  1. andrea4444 says:

    I’d read it just because it’s based in Canada 🙂

  2. I would LOVE a copy of Smoke River, as I am an Aboriginal person, in Canada who is also a Sociology student. I think the subject of land claims is especially topical these days and will only continue to present itself in the media. Plus it would be nice to read something that doesn’t lead to a 12 page essay.

  3. Sheelagh Russell-Brown says:

    I want to read the many voices in the novel.

  4. @CdnGiftGuide @RandomHouseCA @kristafoss PLS a copy of Smoke River! I'm #Sociologist student @CUAboriginal Would make me happy :)— Chrystal (@my_chrystal) August 8, 2014

  5. Andrea lee says:

    Love books about history and especially Canadian books! Thanks for the chance!

  6. Kimberley says:

    I love that it is set in small town Ontario and that it explores the land claim issues.

  7. Joan G. says:

    I want to read this book because you’ve got me interested in the outcome.

  8. Susan says:

    I like to read the works of new Canadian authors.

  9. Lindsey says:

    I love books set in Canada

  10. GARRY S says:


  11. Audrey Skinner says:

    I want to read this book because I like the story line and I also like to read Canadian authors.

  12. Calla says:

    I actually just like reading debut novelists – their first books are always so raw and real. But of course, the topic of this sounds neat.

  13. Hayden says:

    One of my closest friends is Metis and has really educated me about land claims. I’d be interested to read a fictional take on it.

  14. Jennifer Reschke says:

    I live in Southern Ontario and would love to learn more about the aboriginal origins of this area. Any book with that can give me a little more insight into my Canadian heritage is a must-read!

  15. ikkinlala says:

    I’d like to read it because the land claims issue is one that’s been discussed a lot in some of the places I’ve lived.

  16. Angela Mitchell says:

    I honestly don’t know much about the subject matter of this book but I’d love to learn more about it and I’d love to try and read more Canadian books, especially ones with a large cast of characters.

  17. diane says:

    I would love to read this since I am very interested in the Aboriginal people in Canada.

  18. beewbedard says:

    I love books about Canada

  19. beewbedard says:

  20. aarone m says:

    Id like to read it because it looks interesting.

  21. Brixie says:

    I live in a town that borders a Reserve so this book is definitely of interest. Pick me!

  22. prim says:

    I read about this book in the Globe & mail I think. It sounded interesting so I’d like to read it.

  23. Ashley says:

    I read a lot of Aboriginal fiction in Uni. It’d be insightful to read about this situation from a different POV.

  24. Lori P says:

    I’d like to read Smoke River because this is a big issue in my province. I’m sure this novel would greatly enhance my understanding of actual incidents that reach the news.

  25. Sherry K says:

    I would like to read Smoke River because me knowledge about these subjects is just based on news reports. The book would fill out the information.

  26. Athena says:

    It sounds like a really interesting read

  27. Hannah says:

    My to read pile is getting short – time to add more books to the list and this one sounds like a winner.

  28. janicour says:

    I have a friend who is struggling with ownership of her cottage becuase of Aboriginal land claims. I would be very interested to read Smoke River.

  29. janicour says:

  30. Sandra says:

    my mother-in-law lives in Caledonia…so should be interesting

  31. andrea4444 says:

    Part of my family is Native, so this book would be very interesting!

  32. Aria says:

    I’m Metis and proud of it. I’d be interested to read a book about Canada’s Aboriginal people.

  33. linnett says:

    always eager to read to read Canadian authors, thanks

  34. cookie3 says:

    I would love to read this book just because the author is Canadian. I try to support Canadian authors whenever I can.

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  1. […] entry into last week’s Smoke River giveaway – check out the link above and tell me which of the four shades of Ilia multi-sticks […]

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