Between 1949 and 1997 the most exceptional thing that happens to the Chambers family in Stonebrook, Ont., is 12-year-old Daphne's fall from a trapeze while performing in a circus organized by a neighborhood boy. She breaks her arm and mangles her jaw, but you know she'll heal, and she does. More important, you know that the boy will remain in her life forever, which he also does, although not in any way you'd remotely suspect.
That mix of the predictable and the unexpected is just one of the elements that landed 55-year-old Burnard's award-winning first novel atop Canadian bestseller lists last year. Another is her ability to create distinct personalities for a large cast of characters, whose lives she portrays with dignity and quiet passion. These are ordinary, decent people, and Burnard has captured them, warts and all, from their weekends at the lake to the occasional white lie they tell to spare each other unnecessary pain. Their small dramas will linger in your thoughts long after you've put A Good House back on the shelf. Burnard has justly earned her place there alongside fellow Canadian authors Alice Munro, Carol Shields and Margaret Atwood. (Holt, $25)