Our top picks this month explore the ways our families, friends and partners shape us.
In 1930s Australia, the economy is slowly recovering from the Great Depression, modern art is on the rise and nine-year-old Lily is starting a new school. She quickly falls in with Beatrice, Heloise and Eva Trentham, the daughters of wealthy bohemian artists. Lily and Eva in particular connect, and their platonic love becomes the linchpin of this engaging read. Through Eva's friendship, Lily observes a world her middle-class parents can barely imagine: At the Trenthams' rambling estate–turned–artist colony, children roam freely, adults smoke marijuana and edgy art is standard fare. Told mainly through now-grown Lily's memories of that exhilarating time, The Strays is about the desire to belong and the allure of creativity—and the consequences of flames that burn too bright. — Stacy Lee Kong
The Strays (Hamish Hamilton Canada) by Emily Bitto, $32.
From the outside, the Blooms look like a happy blended family. Behind the closed doors of their posh English home, though, they're anything but: Karen, a proud, self-proclaimed tiger mother, spends all her time ferrying 10-year-old Brontë to lessons and extracurricular activities; Karen's husband, Noel, a handsome (possibly alcoholic) doctor spends most evenings working late to avoid being at home; and Ewan and Verity, the couple's children from their respective previous relationships, can't approach Karen's high standards, so they remain permanently beneath her notice. But when Brontë goes missing, all of the Blooms' private flaws becoming distressingly public—and the entire family is caught in an impossible-to-stop chain of events that culminates in a shocking murder. — SLK
The Trophy Child (Doubleday Canada) by Paula Daly, $24.
All you need is love
Lonely hearts is an apt description of Rose and Pierrot, the two main characters in Cancon favourite Heather O'Neill's latest novel. The pair grow up together in an orphanage, where, linked by their shared joie de vivre and knack for performance, they inevitably fall in love. But the star-crossed lovers are torn apart by fate (and an unjust nun) and find themselves moving through Depression-era Montreal, singing, dancing and making strangers fall madly—and we do mean madly—in love with them. As they become entwined with both Montreal's elite one percent and the city's seedy criminal underbelly, Rose and Pierrot spend their time searching for each other—and thinking of their lost dream of putting on the best show in the world. — Alexandra Donaldson
The Lonely Hearts Hotel (HarperCollins) by Heather O'Neill, $33.