The Leacock Medal of Humour annually awards writers for excellence in Canadian humor writing. The award was first given out in 1947, and 2023 marks its 76th anniversary. The 2023 prize will be awarded to one of three finalists — Wayne Johnston, Susan Juby or Zarqa Nawaz.
Jennie’s Boy by Wayne Johnston
For six months between 1966 and 1967, Wayne Johnston and his family lived in a wreck of a house across from his grandparents in Goulds, Newfoundland. At seven, Wayne was sickly and skinny, unable to keep food down, plagued with insomnia and a relentless cough that no doctor could diagnose, though they had already removed his tonsils, adenoids and appendix. To the neighbours, he was known as “Jennie’s boy,” a backhanded salute to his tiny, ferocious mother, who felt judged for Wayne’s condition at the same time as worried he might never grow up.
Unable to go to school, Wayne spent his days with his witty, religious, deeply eccentric maternal grandmother, Lucy. During these six months of Wayne’s childhood, he and Lucy faced two life-or-death crises, and only one of them lived to tell the tale.
Jennie’s Boy is Wayne’s tribute to a family and a community that were simultaneously fiercely protective of him and fed up with having to make allowances for him. His boyhood was full of pain, yes, but also tenderness and Newfoundland wit. By that wit, and through love–often expressed in the most unloving ways–Wayne survived.
Mindful of Murder by Susan Juby
Meet Helen Thorpe. She’s smart, preternaturally calm, deeply insightful and a freshly trained butler. On the day she is supposed to start her career as an unusually equanimous domestic professional serving one of the wealthiest families in the world, she is called back to a spiritual retreat where she used to work, the Yatra Institute, on one of British Columbia’s gulf islands. The owner of the lodge, Helen’s former employer Edna, has died while on a three-month silent self-retreat, leaving Helen instructions to settle her affairs.
But Edna’s will is more detailed than most, and getting things in order means Helen must run the retreat for a select group to determine which of Edna’s relatives will inherit the institute. Helen’s classmates, newly minted butlers themselves, decide they can’t let her go it alone and arrive to help Helen pull things off. After all, is there anything three butlers can’t handle? As Helen carries out the will’s instructions, she begins to think that someone had reason to want Edna dead. A reluctantly suspicious investigator, Helen and her band of butlers find themselves caught up in the mystery.
Jameela Green Ruins Everything by Zarqa Nawaz
Jameela Green only has one wish: To see her memoir on the New York Times bestseller list. When her dream doesn’t come true, she seeks spiritual guidance at her local mosque. New imam and recent immigrant Ibrahim Sultan is appalled by Jameela’s shallowness, but agrees to assist her on one condition: that she perform a good deed.
Jameela reluctantly accepts his terms, kicking off a chain of absurd and unfortunate events. When the person the two do-gooders try to help is recruited by a terrorist group called D.I.C.K.—Dominion of the Islamic Caliphate and Kingdoms—the federal authorities become suspicious of Ibrahim, and soon after, the imam mysteriously disappears.
Certain that the CIA have captured Ibrahim for interrogation via torture, Jameela decides to set off on a one-woman operation to rescue him. Her quixotic quest soon finds her entangled in an international plan targeting the egomaniacal leader of the terrorist organization—a scheme that puts Jameela, and countless others, including her hapless husband and clever but disapproving daughter, at risk.