Reading Resilient Women

The Chai Factor, Farah Heron's debut novel, is a fun and entertaining romantic comedy, but underneath the surface is a story of struggle, strength, and resilience. In this recommended reading list, she shares titles whose resilient heroines helped to inspire her own. 

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The Chai Factor is a romantic comedy following Amira Khan, a 30-year-old engineering grad student who comes home to finish her thesis in her grandmother’s house, only to find that her grandmother has rented the basement to a barbershop quartet. As one does, apparently. Hijinks and arguments about noise levels in the basement are inevitable, but what Amira doesn’t expect is to fall in love with the plaid-wearing baritone who is not what she initially assumed him to be.

But although laughs and swoony romance are front and centre in this book, it covers some pretty heavy topics like Islamaphobia, homophobia, workplace sexism, and living up to familial expectations. And at its core, it’s about a woman of colour’s resilience in a world that is not designed to be easy for her.

I’m primarily a romance writer and reader, but books from other genres about strong, resilient women finding ways to thrive amid the harsh realities of the world are huge inspirations for me. Here are some of my favourite examples written by Canadian authors: two older classics that shaped my literary preferences, and five newer books.

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The Diviners, by Margaret Laurence

I first read this book when I was 16 years old, and to this day it is one of my all-time favourite books. It started my lifelong fascination with rivers, my love of the Kawarthas region of Ontario, and most of all, it was the start of my dream of being a writer myself, just like the protagonist, Morag Gunn. A Scottish-Canadian from the prairies, Morag is orphaned during the great depression and grows up very poor. Morag’s fierce strength and strong-willed personality pulls her from her painful beginnings to a life as a successful novelist.

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In Search of April Raintree, by Beatrice Culleton

This is another book that I read at a young age, and it managed to stay with me for a long time. It follows two Metis sisters who are left in the custody of the state in Manitoba. The stark differences in how their lives unfold and the perseverance that emerges in April as she finds her place in in a difficult world make this an essential read for Canadian women.

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Book Cover Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune

Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune, by Roselle Lim

This was one of my favourite books this year. I loved Natalie and her gentle strength as she coped with the loss of her mother and the struggle of returning to her home in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Roselle writes like she is painting a masterpiece, and the lush descriptions of food and culture complemented Natalie’s resiliency and determination to succeed in her goal of reopening her grandmother’s restaurant.

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The Woo-Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family, by Lindsay Wong

This courageous, darkly funny, and wrenching memoir discusses mental health in a Chinese immigrant family, a topic that isn’t often talked about in these communities.

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Book Cover A Girl Like That

A Girl Like That, by Tanaz Bhathena

Tanaz weaves together a story with multiple points of view that examines toxic masculinity and gender violence in an expat community in modern Saudi Arabia. The character of Zarin is absolutely fascinating. Firm and headstrong, she doesn’t care what others think about her, and she is so relatable and sympathetic. Although a difficult read, this chilling book is an essential YA book by a talented author.

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The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali, by Sabina Khan

Another YA book, this follows the story of a Bengali teenager who is hiding her same-sex relationship from her parents. The abuse and mistreatment she is subjected to when discovered can be difficult to read, but where this book shines is in its portrayal of a strong, resilient teenager who is able to find support when and where she needs it.

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That Time I Loved You, by Carrianne Leung

I didn’t realize how much this book affected me until I couldn’t get it out of my head long after finishing it. A series of stories about the residents of a 1970s Scarborough neighbourhood who are struggling to make sense of a series of suicides in the neighbourhood, the book primarily follows a young Chinese-Canadian girl, June, and her circle of friends. June struggles through normal childhood angst and the desperation to fit in, all against the backdrop of a diverse suburban community reeling with tragedy.

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About The Chai Factor:

Thirty-year-old engineer Amira Khan has set one rule for herself: no dating until her grad-school thesis is done. Nothing can distract her from completing a paper that is so good her boss will give her the promotion she deserves when she returns to work in the city. Amira leaves campus early, planning to work in the quiet basement apartment of her family’s house. But she arrives home to find that her grandmother has rented the basement to . . . a barbershop quartet. Seriously? The living situation is awkward: Amira needs silence; the quartet needs to rehearse for a competition; and Duncan, the small-town baritone with the flannel shirts, is driving her up the wall.

As Amira and Duncan clash, she is surprised to feel a simmering attraction for him. How can she be interested in someone who doesn’t get her, or her family’s culture? This is not a complication she needs when her future is at stake. But when intolerance rears its ugly head and people who are close to Amira get hurt, she learns that there is more to Duncan than meets the eye. Now she must decide what she is willing to fight for. In the end, it may be that this small-town singer is the only person who sees her at all.

July 18, 2019
Books mentioned in this post
The Chai Factor

The Chai Factor

A Novel
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback Paperback Paperback
tagged : humorous
More Info
The Woo-Woo

The Woo-Woo

How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family
edition:Paperback
More Info
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