Many will identify 2010 as the year of the Giller "scandal" and the unstoppable ascent of the ebook. NOW's 2010 Top 10 list, however, is characterized by a surprising number of first-time novelists.
1. THE REHEARSAL by Eleanor Catton
(McClelland & Stewart)
Using three settings - a sax teacher's studio, a girls' academy where a student has been sleeping with the male music teacher and the drama school where kids suffer for their art - Catton meditates on desire, teenage angst and the power of creativity. The best debut since Ann-Marie MacDonald's Fall On Your Knees.
2. ROOM by Emma Donoghue
Donoghue gets out of her historical fiction comfort zone to craft an ingenious novel about a boy born into captivity and the mother who shares his cell. Don't be daunted: this book isn't nearly as harrowing as it sounds.
3. CITIES OF REFUGE by Michael Helm
(McClelland & Stewart)
A man is overwhelmed by guilt over his personal secrets when his daughter is attacked while riding her bike in the streets of Toronto. We're still flabbergasted at the way this beautiful book about refugees, politics and trauma was ignored by this year's prize juries.
4. THE NEAREST EXIT MAY BE BEHIND YOU by S. Bear Bergman
In a series of essays and anecdotes, Bergman reflects on the trans experience. Brilliant, funny, poignant, this is an inspirational book for trans people and the ultimate educational tool for everybody else, including your favourite know-nothing.
5. THE LONG SONG by Andrea Levy
Levy's dynamite storytelling chops bring to life a Jamaican slave who experiences both the pain of working on a sugar plantation and the triumph of Abolition. The trick here is that she's telling the story to her son as she wants him to hear it - so she may not be the most reliable narrator.
6. FAR TO GO by Allison Pick
A Czech Jewish family sees the Nazi writing on the wall and tries to take action in a Holocaust tale that is part mystery, part tragedy and especially convincing in its portrayal of the impact of anti-Semitic terrorism on a young child.
7. THE MADONNAS OF ECHO PARK by Brando Skyhorse
Skyhorse's story cycle about Mexican Americans trying to assimilate in Los Angeles - all of them connected in some way to a drive-by shooting - is told with cool confidence and a fresh new voice.
8. THE AMAZING ABSORBING BOY by Rabindranath Maharaj
When Samuel's mother dies, he's sent from Trinidad to Toronto to live with the father he's never known and experiences our city by riding the subway, hanging out a coffee shop and frequenting video stores. T.O's never before looked like it does in this debut novel.
9. THE BEAUTY OF HUMANITY MOVEMENT by Camilla Gibb
Gibb's saga tracing changes in Vietnam over generations has a bit of everything: politics, a hefty portion of food and a surprisingly powerful emotional punch as the story comes to a close.
10. GIRL CRAZY by Russell Smith
Smith's story about a resentful community college teacher and his obsession with a mysterious woman gradually unfolds as an insightful meditation on masculinity. Just in case you're wondering, Smith is also surprised that we like it.