The Break

The Break

Book - 2016
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Winner of the First Novel Award and a finalist for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and the Governor General's Literary Award, The Break is a stunning and heartbreaking debut novel about a multigenerational Métis-Anishnaabe family dealing with the fallout of a shocking crime in Winnipeg's North End.

When Stella, a young Métis mother, looks out her window one evening and spots someone in trouble on the Break -- a barren field on an isolated strip of land outside her house -- she calls the police to alert them to a possible crime.

In a series of shifting narratives, people who are connected, both directly and indirectly, with the victim -- police, family, and friends -- tell their personal stories leading up to that fateful night. Lou, a social worker, grapples with the departure of her live-in boyfriend. Cheryl, an artist, mourns the premature death of her sister Rain. Paulina, a single mother, struggles to trust her new partner. Phoenix, a homeless teenager, is released from a youth detention centre. Officer Scott, a Métis policeman, feels caught between two worlds as he patrols the city. Through their various perspectives a larger, more comprehensive story about lives of the residents in Winnipeg's North End is exposed.

A powerful intergenerational family saga, The Break showcases Vermette's abundant writing talent and positions her as an exciting new voice in Canadian literature.

Publisher: Toronto :, House of Anansi Press,, 2016
ISBN: 9781487001117
Branch Call Number: F VER
Characteristics: 352 pages : genealogical table ; 21 cm


From the critics

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Sep 10, 2020

Very little story, the book is mostly the thoughts of a family of women, their relationships, what their lives were turning out to be, how they handle the stress and aggravation of daily living on low income and in not ideal areas. The author does however throw in a policeman, who is also a Metis who is battling the same prejudices. Found it rather depressing.

Aug 09, 2020

I could not put this down. Vermette is one of my favourites; she's an incredible storyteller and manages to keep things realistic and impactful. Dialogue doesn't feel forced, and narratives aren't overly flowery, which I appreciate. And in this book, the story is just heartbreaking, but told beautifully and intimately as Vermette always does. There are well-developed social commentaries and themes (intergenerational trauma among them) that would make this totally appropriate to include in a lit course syllabus. Just a heads-up that the book does include descriptions of sexual violence, in case that affects anyone's choice of whether or not to read it.

Aug 01, 2020

The Break by Katherena Vermette is a suspenseful, engaging, and interesting novel. Katherena shares a read that is told in multiple perspectives within a group of Indigenous Manitoban women. The novel focuses on the violence girls and women can receive. Specifically, a Metis-Anishnaabe family that deals with a shocking crime in Winnipeg’s North End. This story illustrates not only racial issues but the hardships a family goes through with strength and healing. It is a heartbreaking, funny, suspenseful, and overall emotional novel. This novel demonstrates feminism/female power by portraying and revealing the heartfelt strength and courage of Indigenous womanhood. The author herself is of Metis descent and originates from Winnipeg, Manitoba. She is now a successful Canadian writer and has won many awards regarding her collection of North End love songs. 5 stars
@Bookland of the Hamilton Public Library's Teen Review Board

ArapahoeJulieH Jan 25, 2020

Tommy Orange recommended this book in a recent interview. The Break is written in a haunting and heartbreaking narrative with a strong female presence. Set in Winnipeg, Vermette speaks to the struggles of a family of urban Native women, their collective stare into the face of a recent, horrific trauma and the camaraderie which keeps them whole. Vermette has written and powerful but disturbing book.

Aug 26, 2019

Tea & Talk Book Club / April 2017

Aug 17, 2019

Tommy Orange recommended this book in a recent interview. The Break is written in a haunting and heartbreaking narrative with a strong female presence. Set in Winnipeg, Vermette speaks to the struggles of a family of urban Native women, their collective stare into the face of a recent, horrific trauma and the camaraderie which keeps them whole. Vermette has written and powerful but disturbing book.

Jun 07, 2019

This is a difficult book to say "I enjoyed" because there really is no 'enjoyment' involved with the story, in my opinion. However, as mournful, depressing and disturbing as I found the first 3/4 to be, I was engaged in the story from the beginning, and certainly felt very moved and weirdly uplifted at the end. My only real criticism of it now that I'm finished as I felt there was too much repetitiveness in the first 3/4; I feel the author could still have made her very very important point without so much repetition, especially as it was confusing at times as to who was who. However, a very interesting and well-written book.

Mar 23, 2019

The reverberations of residential school trauma echo down through the internal cruelties within our communities..

intergenerational sexual abuse, a dark legacy connected to almost 120 years of government-sanctioned, church-operated residential schools, where aboriginal leaders say many First Nations, Metis and Inuit children were physically and sexually molested by clergy and other staff, spawning a cycle of mimicked behaviour in generations to come.

Extensive interviews with social scientists, indigenous leaders and victims undertaken over the past few months by The Canadian Press suggest child sexual abuse is an open secret in many aboriginal communities -- and its prevalence in some is shockingly high.

"Few came out of residential schools having learned good boundaries, and good boundaries included some sense of self-determination, sovereignty over your own body," says Sylvia Maracle, executive director of the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres, based in Toronto.

"They didn't have any control over that, and they didn't see people around with appropriate behaviour and being respectful of them as human beings, that they were sacred. And they were abused, " says Maracle, a Mohawk from eastern Ontario's Tyendinaga First Nation.

"Children learn what they live and that was their life."
second article on first page

Feb 06, 2019

"The Break" by Katherena Vermette is a mess of a novel. A horrific incident doesn't make a plot. One darn thing after another can become a plot. But, in The Break, not much more happens than a loose circling about that opening incident. The novel is made up of the back stories of quite a few characters: each presented one character at a time as a chapter. Although many of these characters are related to each other, the story as a whole isn't pushed forward much by these back stories. And oddly, while most of these characters are presented in the third person, two are in the first person. The result is a mess that just confused this reader: who is this story about ? where is this story going ? Not recommended.

TechLibrarian Aug 02, 2018

I've admired the cover of this book for some time, but only recently decided to give it a turn. I thought maybe I'd just read a few pages, but I was almost immediately pulled in by the writing, and the suspenseful intro--a woman reports a crime, only to be gaslighted by police and by her partner--an interesting twist on the usual "unreliable narrator" theme.

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Dec 21, 2016

Somehow the act of making food always feels like doing something when we are helpless to do anything else.

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