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5 Great Canadian Novels for Young Adults

Updated on September 24, 2012

Anne of Green Gables

By L. M. Montgomery

The world famous novel about a young orphan growing up in beautiful Prince Edward Island has won international fame for good reason. “Anne with an E” is irresistible and heartwarming. It has spawned many sequels, movies, television adaptations, musical productions as well as an Anne of Green Gables theme park in Japan called Anne of Green Gables Land. In fact the books seem to be even more loved in Japan than they are in Canada today.

Lucy Montgomery`s novel began with an idea: what if a couple wanted to adopt a boy to help out on their farm and instead were sent a girl?

Altogether the series is made up of 9 books starring Anne Shirley throughout her life, but a number of books, written by others, are set in her home of Avonlea and feature Anne as a secondary character.

The Cremation of Sam Mcgee

By Robert Service

Service’s best known poem has never quite left me. In elementary school I was made to memorize this poem about a Southern American prospector who dies in Canada’s freezing arctic during the gold rush and asks to be cremated on the icy tundra,

“It’s the cursed cold, and it’s got right hold till I’m chilled clean through to the bone.
Yet ‘taint being dead—it’s my awful dread of the icy grave that pains;
So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you’ll cremate my last remains.”

What can I say about his poem except that it’s perfect? It’s lyrical, chilling, appeals incredibly to the senses and the ending…well, I ‘ll let you discover that surprise for yourself.

The Keeper of the Isis Light

By Monica Hughes

As a young girl I fell in love with this book and everything about it, and who wouldn`t? The main character, Olwen (forever on my list of baby girl names) is a lone teen looked after by a devoted guardian on the distant planet Isis whose life is turned upside down by the arrival of strange settlers from Earth who find her appearance repelling and untrustworthy. It is a brilliant analogy for the way any young girl feels as she enters the world of adolescence and struggles to find her place. This beautifully written piece of science fiction is the beginning of a loosely connected trilogy of books and won the Phoenix award in 2000.

The Wreckers

By Iain Lawrence

This is a truly gripping adventure story about danger, murder and deception on the high seas. Set in Cornwall, England in 1799 young John Spencer is aboard a ship when it is wrecked against a rocky shore. His delight when he sees villagers rushing toward him turns to terror when he realizes that these villagers are not there to help him but to salvage the wreck of anything useful…in fact that is what they do: wreck ships and live off the goods. John Spencer must fight for his life in this hostile land and discover if his father too survived the wreck and is being held captive somewhere on the island. This book is pure good fun and escapist adventure but it does it very well!

Underground to Canada

By Barbara Smucker

A piece of historical fiction about the dangerous Underground Railroad that brave victims of slavery in the United States used to escape the horrors of their lives to a hopefully safer place: Canada.

This is the story of a young southern slave named Julily who escapes to Canada with three others from a plantation in Mississippi. This novel is taught in most Canadian schools around grade 5 when students are learning about Canada’s role in the history of slavery and the civil rights movement. I remember being assigned this book as part of my own course of study in grade 5. We were meant to read a chapter a night but once I started I just couldn’t stop. I finished the whole novel in one night. I couldn’t put it down.

Today I would say that it perhaps gives an unrealistic impression of Canada’s role in slavery. I remember being so proud of how safe and forward thinking Canada was but the truth is there were slaves in Canada too and racism could be just as deadly but of the two countries it was definitely the safer bet, we have reason to be proud but I hope that the reading of this book is tempered with facts, those that do and don’t show Canada in a positive light.


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