Scarborough is a 2017 novel, written by Catherine Hernandez after several years of working as a daycare provider to children in Scarborough, a low-income neighbourhood in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The book dedication reads:
Scarborough is a low-income, culturally diverse neighborhood east of Toronto, the fourth largest city in North America; like many inner city communities, it suffers under the weight of poverty, drugs, crime, and urban blight. Scarborough the novel employs a multitude of voices to tell the story of a tight-knit neighborhood under fire: among them, Victor, a black artist harassed by the police; Winsum, a West Indian restaurant owner struggling to keep it together; and Hina, a Muslim school worker who witnesses first-hand the impact of poverty on education.
And then there are the three kids who work to rise above a system that consistently fails them: Bing, a gay Filipino boy who lives under the shadow of his father’s mental illness; Sylvie, Bing’s best friend, a Native girl whose family struggles to find a permanent home to live in; and Laura, whose history of neglect by her mother is destined to repeat itself with her father.
Scarborough offers a raw yet empathetic glimpse into a troubled community that locates its dignity in unexpected places: a neighborhood that refuses to be undone.
Genres: Fiction, Cultural (Canada)
Format Used: Audio, read by the author
Length: 6h 4m (272 pages)
My Rating: 5/5
From My Reading Challenge:
- An LGBTQ+ author
I first encountered this book as an Audible recommendation based on my completion of Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime (5/5!!!). It hung out in my wish list for a while, until this week’s Canada Day Sale. I saw it was 70% off and grabbed it. My only regret is not having read this sooner! The dedication (see above) made me cry, and I knew I was in for a ride. The story resonated with me on so many levels, but it also forced me into other people’s shoes. The many characters, all of whom are connected by their community centre, have vastly different world experiences, and yet, they have this overall shared experience of struggling to get by and hoping for the best.
If I summed it up in one run-on sentence, I’d say this is a beautiful, empathetic and richly diverse book about struggle, humanity and family. Each chapter is full of heartache and passion, punctuated by hope. The author does a fabulous job at capturing the way poverty intersects with so many other experiences: abuse, neglect, mental illness, disability, queerness, race and racism. All while highlighting how smart and perceptive children are, and how much you can give them if you just keep an open heart, under any circumstance.
I loved how many voices got to be heard in this book. Swapping POVs for each chapter really worked for me, although I know for a lot of people it can be disorienting. If that’s the case for you, I recommend reading it in text format, rather than audio. However, I want to point out that the audio is really great. It’s read by the author and she draws heavily on her work in theatre to give personality to each character without being over-the-top theatrical. I think she did a great job and I always leap for the chance to hear the author’s take on how the words should be read. It feels like getting a personalized experience.
Whichever format you prefer – please read this book! It’s such an important story.
“One morning, Mama had an emergency. It was the type of emergency where she was opening up drawers randomly searching for things and begging us not to ask her any more questions. She took me by the wrist and I knew something was really wrong… These wrong things happened often, which is why I was familiar with the feeling.”
Who Might Like It
I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever been on the side of poverty, known someone who was, or simply wondered what it would be like. It’s authentic, and it’s emotional without being sappy. It’s a book about empathy.
There are very few people I would NOT recommend this book to. The biggest deterrents are probably if you don’t like multiple POVs, or if you simply can’t handle the emotional gut punch. I’d also note a few trigger warnings: abuse, neglect and racism.
And, another trigger and minor spoiler below…
A child dies, though we do not witness it first hand and although we are told what happened, we are spared the details.
I have implemented a standard rating system to my book reviews:
1 – Story, plot and character development are all poor
2 – Concept is intriguing but execution is sloppy or does not deliver on promises
3 – Story, plot and/or character are interesting but some aspects of the book are problematic and/or not fully developed
4 – Strong story, plot and character development but has little-to-no thoughtful commentary
5 – Strong story, plot and character development along with thoughtful commentary
I give this book a 5. It’s a quick read that sucks you in and gives you SO MUCH to think about.
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