Some people find a rewarding sense of dissociation in delving into fictional worlds; others find reading it to be a highly grounding act. But for this year’s Amazon Canada First Novel Award nominees, fiction is a way of life. Whether immersed in the experiences of Indigenous Canadians, abortion activists, abandoned children, or others, readers of this year’s featured works are promised, at the very least, a stark exercise in empathy. We asked the authors themselves to answer: How does fiction help us to escape reality—and how does it help us to see it more clearly? In the end, it’s all a matter of perspective.

“When I open a novel, I forget about my worries and the chaos of the outside world, and live for a while inside someone else’s mind. I can immerse myself in a character’s struggles and desires, world views and histories. I get to follow a protagonist as they navigate the adventures, mishaps, and most difficult moments of their lives. Sometimes when I read, I realize that a character’s questions reflect my own, that we are facing the same dilemmas. Sometimes, I find descriptions of complicated feelings I’ve never been able to put into words. To me, that’s the wonder of fiction, that one book can be so many things at the same time: a window, a portal, a vessel, a mirror.”
Pik-Shuen Fung, Ghost Forest

“One grievance I have about my existence is how limited it is. It’s claustrophobic to exist only as the person I am, and tragic to know I’ll never be a sage old man, or an astronaut, or a rabbit—or anyone other than me. I have the eyes I have, but fiction lets us see the world through other perspectives. I open books to escape myself and my reality. I get to see a little of what the world is like for Indigenous adoptees or for grieving children of “astronaut” fathers in Hong Kong. Or what it’s like to live near the Salmon River on the far edge of the Okanagan Indian Reserve, or to be a young Métis man, or to be involved in underground abortion services. When we close books, we return to ourselves with empathy, insight, and wisdom. Reading offers both an escape from and a window to the world.”
Emily Austin, Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead

“People come to fiction looking for a lot of different things, and what they take away is highly individual. For me, reading and writing fiction has always been how I try to make sense of the world. I rarely think of it as escape, but I do think of it as going somewhere and I think of it as a kind of seeking, of connection or kinship. I like fiction that takes you somewhere specific and new. I like to be immersed in a world or a voice or an experiment with language. The moments of insight I find meaningful are often the least obvious kind, the kind that aren’t signposted but that feel somehow just for you, because you happen to come upon a particular book at a particular moment in your life and find in it a kind of unexpected clarity or permission.”
Aimee Wall, We, Jane

“Fiction may not always help us escape reality, but it does help us see someone else’s more clearly. Many of my non-Indigenous readers were shocked to learn about the living conditions of a First Nations boy. By wearing Eddie Toma’s skin, readers were able to feel what he feels, see what he sees, and hear what he hears. The reader becomes hooked by the story without noticing, and they become a part of the journey. And thus they find themselves in a situation where they normally wouldn’t be, they imagine how they would react, and in doing this, they learn. It is only when a character takes the reader by the hand and guides them that they understand. Empathy helps us see each other more clearly.”
Brian Thomas Isaac, All The Quiet Places

“The best fiction is experiential and makes the motivations and struggles of characters you may have never thought about seem deeply human. The microcosm of the novel brings into sharp relief issues and concerns that may have previously seemed distant or impersonal. We care about the struggles and the triumphs of fictional characters in a way we might not have otherwise had the opportunity to do. While I think this is true for readers, it may also be true for writers of fiction, as we mine our deepest feelings, truths, and musings to create empathetic, relatable, flawed, and heart-breaking characters—each wrought with shreds of the writer’s own heart beating in their fictional chests.”
Lisa Bird-Wilson, Probably Ruby

“Shit, I’m probably the wrong person to ask a question about reality. I live in a world where my reality is that the land and water are just as alive as anything else, and that they carry with them all the personal narratives of all the people who have been there. I can hear them. And they’ll never be captured properly by any piece of writing, and that’s okay. But someday, I hope that other people will see the beauty in land and water and all the depth that it holds. Fiction might get us there and it might not. We might see it more clearly or we might not. It’s all good either way.”
Conor Kerr, Avenue of Champions


Katie Underwood