I’ve noticed a completely unintentional trend in some of my reading of late: I’ve been coming across a lot of five-star bangers from Canada! Random, but it’s a noticeable pattern. I’ve never visited the Great White North myself (of course, it’s on my ‘one day’ list), but I feel like I have thanks to these ten brilliant books set in Canada.

10 Books Set In Canada - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Wherever your books take you, if you purchase them through an affiliate link you’re supporting this site.

A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

A Tale For The Time Being - Ruth Ozeki - Keeping Up With The Penguins

A Tale For The Time Being has a brilliant premise: a writer finds a diary, locked inside a Hello Kitty lunchbox, washed up on the beach in remote coastal Canada. She suspects it to be debris from the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. She reads the diary, and finds herself increasingly obsessed with the life and inner world of 16-year-old Nao, the diary’s keeper. The story takes some weird detours into metaphysics and philosophy, but it still comes to a satisfying (though pleasingly not saccharine) conclusion. Read my full review of A Tale For The Time Being here.

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Alias Grace - Margaret Atwood - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Alias Grace is the fictionalised story of the real life and crimes of Canadian woman Grace Marks. She and another servant in the same household, James McDermott, were tried and convicted of the 1843 murders of the householder Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper (slash secret lover) Nancy Montgomery. McDermott was sentenced to death and hanged, while Marks’s death sentence was commuted. Was she actually guilty, or was she wrongfully imprisoned? It’s a fascinating and compelling work of historical fiction, one that tells us just as much about Canadian society and gender roles at the time as it does Grace’s crimes. Read my full review of Alias Grace here.

Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

Cat's Eye - Margaret Atwood - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Yes, maybe it’s cheating to have two Margaret Atwood novels in a list of books set in Canada, but she is the country’s most renowned literary export. (Atwood’s work also diverges so dramatically, thematically and chronologically, it really feels like you’re reading a different author altogether sometimes.) Cat’s Eye is set in Toronto, the Canadian city where artist Elaine Risley grew up. She returns to it as an adult, for a retrospective of her work, and she’s thrown back to her memories of a formative friendship with her cruelest bully. Read my full review of Cat’s Eye here.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

Station Eleven - Emily St John Mandel - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Feel like wandering the hills of the Great Lakes region in a post-apocalyptic future, watching a troupe of actors perform Shakespeare and dodge the deadly flu pandemic? Then pick up Station Eleven. It might still be a bit “too soon” for some readers (Emily St John Mandel was eerily prescient, publishing this one six years before COVID hit), but if you can set aside those qualms, it’s an almost comforting read. Even in the darkest, starkest times, against the most villainous and insurmountable of threats, people will keep art and humanity alive.

The Department Of Rare Books And Special Collections by Eva Jurczyk

The Department Of Rare Books And Special Collections - Eva Jurczyk - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Deep in the dusty stacks of a university library in Toronto, Liesl Weiss works quietly in the The Department Of Rare Books And Special Collections (from which the book takes its name). When she’s unexpectedly thrust into her boss’s job, she discovers a terrifying secret: the library’s prize manuscript is missing. Why doesn’t anyone seem to care? And why has one of her colleagues gone missing? She’s going to find the answers, and they’re going to shake the foundations on which she’s built everything she knows. This book is “a rare treat for booklovers”, a high-stakes mystery with bookish types at its heart.

The Strangers by Katherena Vermette

The Strangers - Katherena Vermette - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Strangers is “a searing exploration of race, class, inherited trauma, and matrilineal bonds that – despite everything – refuse to be broken”. Katherena Vermette is a Red River Métis (Michif) writer, from the heart of Métis nation in Canada, and her heritage permeates this incredible First Nations novel. The story is told in five parts, and despite very dark subject matter (and Vermette’s talent for stark realism), it’s a propulsive and pensive read. Read my full review of The Strangers here.

The Catch by Amy Lea

The Catch - Amy Lea - Keeping Up With The Penguins

When a floundering fashion influencer discovers that her all-expenses-paid vacation at a Canadian resort isn’t booked for the week she arrived, she has no choice but to take up residence at the only AirBNB available in a small fishing village nearby. Who could’ve guessed that in that ramshackle inn, she’d find the man she’d be calling her fiance just a few days later? Well, anyone who’s read one of Amy Lea’s novels, that’s who. The Catch is a romance that manages to be both swoony and spicy, the perfect escapist read. Read my full review of The Catch here.

Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily Austin

Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead - Emily Austin - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead is perhaps less explicitly Canadian than other books set in Canada on this list, but I can’t resist any opportunity to hype it up. It’s a hilariously deadpan, macabre-meets-comedy read about being at war with your own mind. Gilda can’t stop thinking about death (given the state of the world, it’s hard to blame her). In desperation, she responds to a flyer for free therapy from her local church – but instead of healed, she finds herself installed as their new receptionist. For a queer atheist with intense anxiety, this presents many problems. Her anxious apathy and her unsentimental delivery make an otherwise-dark story a laugh-out-loud relatable read. Read my full review of Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead here.

The Call Of The Wild by Jack London

The Call Of The Wild - Jack London - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I’ll say this right at the outset: do not go into The Call Of The Wild thinking it’s a heart-warming tale about a puppy who goes camping in the Yukon. It’s one of the most iconic books set in Canada, but it baffles me how it ever got to be, given the amount of dog-related violence and death in these pages. I guess other fans of Canadian literature are just less squeamish than I am? If you can look past the blood and cruelty, you’ll find yourself transported to the wildest landscapes of Canada, shivering in the snow at the height of the Klondike Gold Rush. Read my full review of The Call Of The Wild here.

Out On A Limb by Hannah Bonam-Young

Out On A Limb - Hannah Bonam-Young - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Do you ever read a book and get the strong sense that the author wrote the book that they needed to read? That’s how you’ll feel with Out On A Limb. Canadian writer Hannah Bonam-Young explains in her introductory author’s note that she lives with a limb difference, and it gave her all kinds of doubts about becoming a mother. So, she wrote the story of a young Ontario woman with a limb difference who falls pregnant, and has to navigate disability, pregnancy, and falling in love with her one night stand, all at once. It’s fun, it’s Canadian, and even if you hate the accidental pregnancy trope in romance, you’re sure to find yourself charmed by it in this case.