Book Review: Annabel by Kathleen Winter

What a gem! Annabel begins with the birth of an intersex child in Labrador in 1969. The baby’s parents decide to raise the child as a boy and Annabel is the story of his life. More significantly for me, Annabel is a tale of relationships: father/son, mother/daughter, husband/wife, land/people, best friends and the relationships between an individual’s mind, body and spirit.

I was particularly struck by the doubt and guilt that burden the child’s parents, Treadway and Jacinta. Treadway copes by growing closer to the land, while Jacinta sinks into depression. Their marriage suffers. “Each grew more silent outwardly and more self-sufficient, but lonesome inwardly. From the outside they looked the way many middle-aged couples do. Both were models of sensible good behaviour….[Jacinta’s friends] did not realize that Treadway and Jacinta had moved away from each other, though outwardly each held the golden thread that looked like marriage.” (page 94)

Another dimension of the story that resonated strongly with me was the beauty of the setting and the characters’ connections to the land. I love to “be” in nature and could really relate to how Treadway found temporary peace when he was alone in the wilderness.

I was touched by the close friendship between Wayne and Gracie and outraged by Derek Watford’s attack on Wayne/Annabel, so much so that I wanted to climb into the pages to confront him.

Above all, I felt compassion – most easily for Wayne/Annabel but also for his parents, for Gracie and for Thomasina (who fled from her guilt over keeping the secret from Wayne/Annabel by travelling the world). I wanted everything to turn out “alright” for all of them.

So I think Sarah Gadon has identified a very strong pillar from which to defend Annabel in Canada Reads 2014 – it teaches compassion. In an interview on CBC’s Canada Reads website Gadon explains that she selected the book “because it looks at identity not as a fixed thing, but as fluid and changeable and on-going journey.” She believes that everyone can relate to this perspective on identity.


I use pretty much the same rating system as Goodreads where 1 star = did not like it, 2 stars = it was OK, 3 stars = liked it, 4 stars = really liked it, and 5 stars = it was amazing. Unlike Goodreads, I allow half stars.

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