Scar­bor­ough by Cather­ine Her­nan­dez

Room Magazine - - CONTENTS - Carly Ros­alie Van­der­griendt

To the av­er­age Toron­to­nian, Scar­bor­ough is nei­ther here nor there. A crime-plagued eastern fringe, it’s con­tem­plated only in light of its prox­im­ity—or lack thereof—to Toronto. Not a des­ti­na­tion, but a place to pass through en route to some­thing bet­ter. Queer cre­ator and long-time Scar­bo­rian Cather­ine Her­nan­dez chal­lenges th­ese no­tions in Scar­bor­ough, a novel that quickly se­cured its spot on the Toronto Book Awards short­list, the Canada Reads longlist, and sev­eral best book lists in 2017.

Fear­less in its de­pic­tion of cul­tural and racial ten­sions, Scar­bor­ough is a rev­e­la­tion in both its form and its con­tent. Told in short bursts by a size­able cast of char­ac­ters, this pro­file of a cul­tur­ally di­verse low-in­come neigh­bour­hood re­volves around a gov­ern­ment-funded lit­er­acy cen­tre run by a com­mu­nity out­reach worker named Hina Has­sani. Hina’s email ex­changes with her boss, who doles out pas­sive-ag­gres­sive

ad­vice and Oprah quotes from the com­fort of her down­town of­fice, high­light the short­com­ings of well-mean­ing so­cial pro­grams. Faced with a com­mu­nity whose ba­sic phys­i­cal and emo­tional needs are go­ing un­met, Hina is cau­tioned to fo­cus on “fam­ily lit­er­acy, not so­cial work.”

The cen­tre be­comes a point of in­ter­sec­tion for the chil­dren and par­ents who voice their own sto­ries over the course of the novel. Among them is Cory, a white su­prem­a­cist and fail­ing fa­ther to Laura, who siphons hope from Hina. Mean­while, Marie Beau­doin, an In­dige­nous mother, spends pre­cious hours in wait­ing rooms and on crosstown buses as she comes to the dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion to seek a di­ag­no­sis for her young son. Her or­deal leaves lit­tle time for her daugh­ter Sylvie, who finds com­pany in the mot­ley char­ac­ters she en­coun­ters at the shel­ter where they live, and forges a close friend­ship with her school­mate Bing, the novel’s res­i­dent charmer. A pre­co­cious Filipino whose mother toils in a Viet­namese nail salon, Bing is grow­ing into his queer­ness. While Laura, Sylvie, and Bing are at the heart of this novel, other voices come and go, cre­at­ing a life­like mo­saic.

With other re­cent nov­els set in Scar­bor­ough, this eastern fringe might be hav­ing a mo­ment in Can­Lit. But Her­nan­dez’s Scar­bor­ough is also a new kind of novel in which voices come to­gether to claim a place as their own. Dol­lar store fights break out, a Black artist is wrong­fully ar­rested, a puppy mill owner ush­ers a new life into the world. A com­mu­nity grows to­gether. As Sylvie puts it, it’s “just an­other day in Scar­bor­ough.”

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