Six debut novelists were named finalists:
Book of Sands by Karim Alrawi
Tarek, a young father, watches as the city he lives in is mired in protests amid the upheaval of the Arab Spring, hemmed in by barricades and strangely inundated by great flocks of birds. Facing the threat of police arrest, he flees with his nine-year-old daughter, Neda. He is forced to leave behind his pregnant wife, Mona, under the watchful eye of Omar, her deeply troubled and religious brother. As Tarek and Nada journey through villages razed by conflict towards a mountain refuge, they meet with fellow travellers from Tarek’s past and his time as a political prisoner. The reunion reveals secrets that Tarek must come to terms with for his own and Neda’s sake. Ultimately, he must decide where this journey will take them and if he will ever be able to return home again.
13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad
Growing up in the suburban hell of Misery Saga (a.k.a. Mississauga), Lizzie has never liked the way she looks—even though her best friend Mel says she’s the pretty one. She starts dating guys online, but she’s afraid to send pictures, even when her skinny friend China does her makeup: she knows no one would want her if they could really see her. So she starts to lose. With punishing drive, she counts almonds consumed, miles logged, pounds dropped. She fights her way into coveted dresses. She grows up and gets thin, navigating double-edged validation from her mother, her friends, her husband, her reflection in the mirror. But no matter how much she loses, will she ever see herself as anything other than a fat girl? In her hilarious and at times shocking debut, Mona Awad skewers the body image-obsessed culture that tells women they have no value outside their physical appearance, and delivers a tender depiction of a lovably difficult young woman whose life is hijacked by her struggle to conform.
Do You Think This Is Strange? by Aaron Cully Drake
Freddy is having a rough year. First, he is expelled from school for fighting. Now, at his new school, he is required to have regular conversations with a counselor—an awkward situation for anyone, really, but even more so for Freddy, who has autism. Not only that, Freddy’s mom left years ago and his dad drinks too much. But then Saskia—a fair-haired girl Freddy hasn’t seen in ten years—appears at his new school. As children they attended the same group therapy sessions, and now she is hardly the same person he remembers. She doesn’t smile. And she doesn’t talk. But their reunion provides him with respite in a difficult time, and sets a chain of meetings and events into motion that reveals long-repressed memories and brings Freddy to a unexpectedly freeing moment of truth.
Seep by W. Mark Giles
Dwight Eliot was born on a baseball diamond, during a dugout-clearing brawl. Decades later, when he sees his childhood home being moved on a truck down the highway, he begins a quest to research the history of his hometown and of his family. Seep is being dismantled, and the land is being redeveloped as a master-planned recreational townsite to complement a nearby First Nations casino. In the face of the town's erasure, he tries to preserve its stories; so doing, he comes to question his own. Seep limns the tension between land development and landscape, trauma and nostalgia, dysfunction and intimacy in a narrative of twenty-first century Canada.
Backspring by Judith McCormack
Eduardo, an architect from Lisbon, has come to Montreal to be with his wife Geneviève. Geneviève researches fungi and likes to catalogue her orgasms. But when Eduardo is caught in an explosion, and rumors of arson begin to circulate, both his marriage and his fledgling architecture firm verge on collapse
The Afterlife of Birds by Elizabeth Philips
Henry Jett's life is slowly going nowhere. His girlfriend recently left, and his job in a local garage is uninspiring, considering that he doesn't particularly like cars. Henry finds solace in his eccentric passion, rebuilding the skeletons of birds and animals. Meanwhile Henry's brother, Dan, is disappearing into an obsession of his own. Without Dan to rely on, Henry begins to engage in new ways with the people around him in his Prairie city: the 80-year-old Russian émigré who delights in telling stories; the very pregnant former employee of his mother's; the lawyer who may or may not be his brother's ex-girlfriend. Gradually they demand that Henry become a participant in his own story, and Henry must forge his own way of living in the world.
The winner will be announced on May 26.