Set in urban and rural reaches of Alberta, Katie Bickell’s debut novel is told in a series of stories that span the years from 1990 to 2016, through cycles of boom and bust in the oil fields, government budget cuts and workers rights policies, the rising opioid crisis, and the intersecting lives of people whose communities sometimes stretch farther than they know.
We meet a teenage runaway who goes into labour at the West Edmonton Mall, a doctor managing hospital overflow in a time of healthcare cutbacks, a broke dad making extra pay through a phone sex line, a young musician who dreams of fame beyond the reserve, and a dedicated hockey mom grappling with sense of self when she’s no longer needed―or welcome―at the rink.
Always Brave, Sometimes Kind captures a network of friends, caregivers, in-laws, and near misses, with each character’s life coming into greater focus as we learn more about the people around them. Tracing alliances and betrayals from different perspectives over decades, Bickell writes an ode to home and community that is both warm and gritty, well-defined and utterly complicated.
“Always Brave, Sometimes Kind is forever beautiful. Bickell’s debut is a loving portrait of the people that you think you know, but don’t really, and who feel even more familiar thanks to her accurate map of one city’s past, politics, and pulse.”
—Omar Mouallem, award-winning author, journalist, filmmaker
“This is a very satisfying read. When I finished the book, I wanted to reread it immediately. Bickell shows the interconnectedness of our actions and our lives in such a way that this reader desperately wants to chart a family and friends tree. On the second read (yes, I read it twice), I was more aware of the connections and this enabled a different reading experience than the first time. Always clever, Sometimes puzzling. I recommend reading carefully to enjoy the subtlety of some connections. Time for a third reading.”
– HelenJane Shawyer, University English Instructor
“Like a Northern Albertan wind in February, this courageous piece of writing exposes the harsh truths of life in modern Canada. Humourous, tender and sensitive, I was completely absorbed within the first few pages. I burst out laughing a couple of times at how profoundly accurate her depictions of Albertan life are. A really beautiful study of the intricate connections between us all.”
Liz Pomeroy, Irish-Canadian Lead Singer of 0Stella