A Book Set in Atlantic Canada: Picks for the TPL Reading Challenge 2023

August 9, 2023 | Kasey K

Comments (1)

TPL Reading Challenge 2023 Banner 3000x1500 (1)

I have a soft spot for books set in Atlantic Canada because it's where I lived for the first 20 or so years of my life. By the age of 6, I'd lived in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland. (I'm sorry but it feels weird to say I lived in Newfoundland and Labrador because I only lived in Newfoundland.) I've only missed living out on PEI.

Atlantic Canada is the cluster of Canada's four smallest provinces, which still manage to have two time zones. A vibrant part of our country, it's full of complicated history and varied cultures — there are great stories to be told about it!

These are my recommendations for a book set in Atlantic Canada:


Where I Belong by Alan Doyle

Alan Doyle is best known as one of the members of Great Big Sea, a band with unmistakable East Coast energy that has wide appeal. In addition to making raucously joyous music, he's a warm and funny storyteller. Where I Belong the first of three books Doyle— a national treasure — has given us. It's a memoir of his early years growing up in Petty Harbour, Newfoundland and how he came to be the front man of Great Big Sea.

Other categories:

  • a book that makes you happy
  • a book about a land you'd like to explore


Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald

For a much darker take on Atlantic Canada, we turn to Ann-Marie MacDonald. Fall On your Knees is an achingly beautiful, multi-generational story following the Pipers, a family living in a Cape Breton (Nova Scotia) mining town in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This book portrays an enormous amount of pain and trauma, including child sexual abuse. There is something about the lyricism of MacDonald's writing that has had me return to the book many times over the years.

Other categories:

  • a book about survival
  • a book about a historical event you are unfamiliar with
  • a book by a person living with a non-apparent disability


Africville by Jeffrey Colvin  (some editions Africaville)

This book is another multi-generational story of a Nova Scotia family from Africville, a town on the shore of Halifax Harbour founded by Black Nova Scotians in the early 1800s. Colvin's book follows three generations of the Sebolt family, spanning from the 1930s (Great Depression) to the 1980s (20 years after the town was demolished to make way for a second harbour bridge linking Dartmouth and Halifax.)

  • a book about survival
  • a book about a historical event you are unfamiliar with


Rilla of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery

I don't think it's possible to talk about books set in Atlantic Canada without mentioning L. M. Montgomery. Rilla of Ingleside is the eighth and final book in the Anne of Green Gables saga. I re-read all eight on a yearly basis when I was a child, and this  was a strong favourite for me. It's a coming-of-age story of Rilla (short for Marilla, but don't call her that!) Blythe, the youngest of Anne's five children. Rilla's late teen years coincide with the First World War, and her early forays into romance are interrupted as all the young men in her life, including her two older brothers, are sent off to the front, many never to return. It's a touching account of the impact of the war on rural Prince Edward Island.

Other categories:

  • a book about a land you would like to explore
  • a book published before 1923 

Staff recommendations


Peace by Chocolate by Jon Tattrie

Written by veteran CBC journalist Jon Tattrie, this book tells the story of how the Hadhad family fled Syria, lived as refugees in Lebanon and arrived in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. You'll learn a lot about the family's very successful chocolatier business, Peace by Chocolate, which is the best! A very uplifting read that has recently been adapted into a film.

Other categories:

  • a book with a food item in the title
  • a book that makes you happy

—Jennifer, Branch Head


Kettle Harbour by Kyle Vingoe-Cram

This debut graphic novel takes place along the Fundy coast as two cousins reunite in adulthood. Andrea and Brendan were close as children, but drifted apart as life took them to different cities. Now both are at a crossroads in their life at the exact moment that Andrea moves back to the east coast to live with Brendan.

I'd recommend this to people who love complex characters and stories revolving around familial dynamics. The art can be a little experimental at times, but a bit of patience is all it took for me to get drawn into the book.

Other categories:

  • a book about friendship
  • a book with multiple timelines
  • a book published this year

—Mike, Digital Content Lead


The Good Women of Safe Harbour by Bobbi French

Frances Delaney is staring down the last days of her life. Looking back over her fifty-eight years with wit and no small amount of regret, she sees not the life she wanted but the one that happened. An idyllic childhood in the small Newfoundland fishing town of Safe Harbour was darkened by the loss of her father at sea, an unwanted pregnancy and a betrayal by her closest friend, Annie Malone. Frances and Annie were inseparable, and this rupture rocked Frances to the core. In the aftermath, she fled to St. John’s and a solitary life — nothing like what she and Annie had dreamed of as their grand escape. Now, with the help of her young, optimistic friend Edie, Frances begins a journey toward resolution and back to Annie and Safe Harbour. With these good women in her corner, Frances can at last chart her course to living on her own terms, right to the very end.

I recommend this book because it's a story about reflecting on life. It's a story about a resilient woman, about living life on your own terms, friendship and the strong connection to place and home.

Other categories:

  • a book about friendship

—Fiona, Senior Service Specialist, Local History


Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World by Janet E. Cameron

This is a heart-wrenching coming of age story set in 1980s small-town Nova Scotia about a young teen boy named Stephen who has fallen in love with the exact wrong person – his best friend, Mark. We follow Stephen as he navigates growing up in a small town, falling for his best friend and coming out to his friends, family and even to himself. Sometimes the difficulties of reaching adulthood really do feel like the end of the world, and we get to explore that in this powerful character-driven novel.

Other categories:

  • a book with a food item in the title

—Holly, Librarian


The Woman in the Attic by Emily Hepditch

A psychological thriller that surrounds this family from page one right until the end. There is hoarding, a mysterious attic bedroom, lost letters and lots of questions. Set on "The Rock" (Newfoundland), the eerie backdrop is a perfect setting for the story to begin. Ana comes home to put her mother into transitional housing as her mother appears to have dementia and needs more help than Ana can give. A nosy hospice nurse, bad weather and a mystery that Ana must solve, keep the story moving quickly, and the reader must keep their wits about them to keep up. A great read for fall time when the evenings become shorter and the heat is (hopefully) letting up, sending shivers down our spine. Great read.

Other categories:

  • a book about friendship
  • a book about a person over age 65

—Katherine, Library Assistant

Recommendations from the Facebook Group

These are just some of the suggested titles from our Facebook TPL Reading Challenge 2023 discussion group. You can read all of the responses in the original post (get the link from our FB moderator). You do not need a Facebook account to read the suggestions.

French Recommendations

If you like to read in French, check out the list of recommended books for Le Canada atlantique : suggestions pour le Défi lecture.  There's a mix of books, ebooks and digital audiobooks to try.

Is there a book set in Atlantic Canada that you'd recommend? Add your suggestion(s) in the comments section below.