praise for Avalanche

“White people’s anxieties, anger, fear, and self-doubt regarding race and racism are placed centre stage in Avalanche, the provocative and illuminating new collection of short fiction by Toronto-based Jessica Westhead… Sophisticated both thematically and stylistically, Avalanche is a meaningful contribution to an important cultural conversation.” —Shawn Syms, Quill & Quire (starred review)

“The surface playfulness in the stories in Jessica Westhead’s collection Avalanche belies a deeper seriousness about colonialism… Westhead excels in characters whose defining features tend to be their fear of something, be it disease, some undefinable harm to their children or the state of the world… The stories in Avalanche feature a clutch of white characters, all of them soft liberals, who can’t seem to manifest their stated social justice beliefs in their actual lives. The central characters in the collection are united by their absolute lack of self-awareness.”
—Steven W. Beattie, Toronto Star

“With Westhead’s signature wit and absurdity, she skewers white supremacy’s feigned cluelessness and holds both characters and readers to account as she weaves moments of allegedly “polite” or quiet discrimination. The obliviousness of her characters acts as a societal mirror, with violence both literal and figurative lurking just out of frame in each tense tale. As white characters flail to have their own innate goodness confirmed, they encroach further and further on the patience, well being, and even safety of racialized characters. Unpredictable, expertly crafted, and executed with deadpan wit, Westhead’s collection is a powerful and timely clarion call from one of our finest short fiction creators.”
Open Book

“Jessica Westhead’s latest short fiction collection examines the prevalence of white privilege, white entitlement, and white guilt in the context of a world ever more awakened to racial injustices. Westhead highlights the follies and harms done by the well-intentioned and the un-self-aware, all in her signature blend of sharp observation and wonderfully awkward humour.” —Andrew Woodrow-Butcher, Quill & Quire 2023 Fall Preview: Fiction and Short Fiction

“I have three goals with The Minerva Reader: to read, to recommend and, to learn. With Avalanche, I realize all three. Westhead’s prose is, as always, observative, precise and pitch perfect, with an undercurrent of humour that cuts to the bone in a not-entirely-comfortable way. But that’s the point of Avalanche, to make the reader uncomfortable. Westhead fearlessly challenges us to wipe clean the muddy windows of awareness. Embrace being rattled by this collection, it’s an important read.” —Lisa de Nikolits, The Minerva Reader

“A powerful and moving collection.” —Lucy E.M. Black, The Miramichi Reader

“Most of these stories focus on white women, and while they are brutal in their accuracy, they are not unsympathetic to the flailing of white people who are struggling to wake up to the true extent of their privilege. Such perfectly captured cringe. Such a funny, unsparing, ballsy, and in many ways, such a kind and hopeful collection.” —Hollay Ghadery, author of Fuse

“There’s a lot to laugh at, and equal amounts to cringe at, but through the lampooning of this hapless, privileged character we see much what we can improve in our own allyship. Beth-Ann could have been left as a caricature and the story would still have worked, but such a shortcut would not be acceptable for a writer of Westhead’s obvious skill.” —Jeff Dupuis, author and Founding Editor of The Quarantine Review, featuring “Cheryl, Are You Okay?” from Avalanche in his “Short Story of the Week” review series

“Readers may share the discomfort of the characters, or they may enjoy seeing them squirm. Overall, a brave and challenging book, one that takes full advantages of Westhead’s sharpened talents for mapping the contours of social relations. She offers a well-stated, hyperreal portrait of our moment.” —Michael Bryson, reviewing Avalanche on Substack

“A truly irresistible story collection. One minute you’re laughing or rolling your eyes at the cluelessness of one of her characters; the next, you’re squirming with recognition, realizing that you’ve been that person (and on more occasions than you might care to admit)… What makes it possible for Westhead to keep her readers reading—as a reader, you’re not merely engaged; you’re riveted—is the way she treats her characters with compassion. Yes, these people are deeply flawed, but isn’t that a key ingredient in the recipe for being human?” —Ann Douglas, reviewing Avalanche for The Honest Talk

press for Avalanche

The excellent folks at Open Book Ontario interviewed me about Avalanche and wrote a very kind introduction about the book.

Avalanche was included in the Toronto Star‘s Fall Book Preview and CBC Books’ Fall Book Preview, and was among 49th Shelf’s Editors’ Picks for September!

Avalanche was featured among All Lit Up’s Homegrown: Locally Produced Reads from the Literary Press Group!

praise for Worry

“Human life is fragile and precarious. No one knows this more than Ruth, the preoccupied parent at the centre of Jessica Westhead’s startling and powerfully affecting new novel… With Worry, the author takes a decidedly dark turn, magnifying cultural anxieties about motherhood, female friendship, and sexual violence to generate a story with enough disturbing and chilling moments to rival the best of Stephen King.” —Shawn Syms, Quill & Quire

“Worry does a masterful job of building tension, and the reader is constantly torn between eager anticipation and dread of finding out what is happening next. There is a heightened level of anxiety that stretches throughout the entire story, which pulls the reader in and creates intense suspense.” —Menaka Raman-Wilms, The Ottawa Review of Books

Worry builds its throttling tension through the story of Ruth, the alpha-protective mother of precocious almost-4-year-old Fern as they visit a family cottage belonging to Ruth’s lifelong pal, free-wheeling Stef… Ruth and Stef share a complicated past as revealed through flashbacks and heartbreaking third-person exposés that slowly unfurl through the book. Worry becomes as much a reflection on adult relationships as it is about a parent desperately wanting to make the best choices for their child.” —Sue Carter, Toronto Star

“A taut cottage-set novel that takes place over 48 hours. Part mystery, part psychological fiction. All sweltering tension.” —Cottage Life Magazine

“Worry gave me goosebumps from the very first line! The first few pages are so utterly heartbreaking that you nearly shy away but the instant connection between reader and protagonist is established and you devour the entire book. And yes, you do worry, the entire way.” —Lisa de Nikolits, The Minerva Reader

“Jessica Westhead is one of the finest prose writers in this country.” —Zoe Whittall, bestselling author of The Best Kind of People

“In Worry, Jessica Westhead deftly plumbs the anxiety that can arise from attachment. This compelling novel explores not only the tensions between dependence and freedom, but also the tricky, shifting nature of love itself.” —Meg Wolitzer, bestselling author of The Interestings

“I read Worry in one sleepless, unbroken gulp. Jessica Westhead renders parenthood as a riveting high-wire act, and imbues a seemingly ordinary lakeside vacation with suspense and menace that lingers long after reading… An irresistible novel from its first pages to its devastating end.” —Kim Fu, acclaimed author of The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore

“An eerie, twist-filled story. With striking precision, Westhead dissects parenting and relationships in the age of anxiety. A riveting read.”  —Katrina Onstad, acclaimed author of Everybody Has Everything

Kerry Clare wrote some very nice things about Worry in her Pickle Me This review here.

Andrew Hood gave Worry a wonderful review for the Bookshelf News here.

press for Worry

I spoke about Worry on CBC’s The Next Chapter, which was a longtime dream come true.

I talked about Worry on Global TV’s The Morning Show, ahhh!! You can watch the clip here.

Sue Carter wrote a lovely profile of me and Worry for the Toronto Star. Read it here.

Stacey May Fowles wrote this beautiful Open Book essay about Worry.

Worry was included on 49th Shelf’s Top Fiction of 2019 list!!

Parenting author and speaker Ann Douglas recommended Worry as a book pairing with Happy Parents, Happy Kids!

I had a great time chatting with Trevor Corkum for this 49th Shelf interview.

I had lots of fun gabbing about Worry with Jamie Tennant for his Get Lit podcast.

I shared this list of book recommendations connected with the writing of Worry for the 49th Shelf.

Worry was included in the Ezvid Wiki video wiki “8 Thought-Provoking Novels Written By Women”! You can watch the video here.

praise for Things Not to Do

“Westhead’s writing is infused with a generosity that is infectious: It draws a reader in and demands an emotional accounting.”
—Steven W. Beattie, The Globe & Mail

“Westhead brings empathy and humour to everyday absurdities with believable and recognizable characters.”
—Elizabeth Mitchell, Toronto Star

Things Not to Do hinges largely on the double-edged nature of empathy. In the wonderful piece ‘Empathize or Die,’ Westhead shows the ways in which empathy also has its dangers… Westhead maps the murky, strained silences of modern life.” —Andrew Woodrow-Butcher, Quill & Quire

Things Not to Do was included on Maisonneuve‘s Best Books of 2017 list! “Westhead extends to her characters a sweetness and a generosity which is not mere charity, but genuine understanding, whether they are children or caregivers or cheating spouses or fast-food wage slaves, and she challenges the reader to do the same.” —Andrew Forbes

“Each story presents itself with a dilemma to the reader: Will I empathize, look past the human error? Or will I shake my head and become a judge of character? This duality is made even more difficult—but entertaining—by Westhead’s humour, which leaves the reader unsure whether to laugh the story off or feel a sense of shame for laughing at all.”
—Erica Lenti, The Winnipeg Review

“These stories are sad, funny and so quietly and powerfully subversive. I loved them.” —Kerry Clare, Pickle Me This (Read the full review here)

interviews & things (about Things and other fiction)

My short story “Mister Elephant” from Things Not to Do was included in the 2018 Short Story Advent Calendar! Read my mini-interview about the story here. Anne Logan gave “Mister Elephant” this marvellous video review in her Day 11 Short Story Advent Calendar unveiling for her Video Book Reviews YouTube Channel. (I also love how dedicated she is to chocolate!)

Things Not to Do was included on 49th Shelf’s 2018 Books of the Year: Fiction List!

CBC Books included Things Not to Do on this list of 14 Great Canadian Collections to Read to Celebrate Short Story Month!

I talked about my writing process, my love of social awkwardness, and some other things with Trevor Corkum for The Chat on 49th Shelf.

I gabbed about fear, writing-brain fog, and Churkendooses in CBC Books’ Magic 8 Q&A.

I talked about dialogue, and include some of my favourite eavesdropping gems, for the One Question Interview on writer Alex Boyd’s blog.

Sonal Champsee and PRISM International Magazine interviewed me here about writing-related things.

I shared my best piece of writing advice with Open Book (there’s a lot of great advice from a bunch of excellent writers here!) for “The Ultimate Writing Tips Post.”

CBC Books included Things Not to Do on this list of 14 Great Canadian Collections to Read to Celebrate Short Story Month!

Things Not to Do was included in “The Most-Anticipated Books of the Rest of 2017” in The Globe and Mail!

Things Not to Do was included on the CBC Q Blog’s September Preview!

praise for And Also Sharks

“Fraught with a slightly skewed view of reality, the prose is at times so dry you’d give anything for the characters to stop talking and exit with whatever grace they might have left. But at these points you laugh, and the tension breaks and starts all over again.”
—Brooke Ford, The Globe & Mail

“Westhead is adept at providing caustically funny snapshots of lives that are twisted by loss, loneliness or boredom.”
—Steven W. Beattie, National Post

“With her penchant for supremely neurotic protagonists and thematic complexity, and her rich sense of the absurd, Westhead may have a claim to being CanLit’s Woody Allen.”
—Shawn Syms, Quill & Quire

“The narrative tone of voice is deftly comic…but the settings and situations are emphatic about the gnawing difference between one’s high expectations for life and what actually comes to be.”
—Brett Josef Grubisic, Vancouver Sun

“…unsettling, endearing, funny, sad, surprising and all else. In short, it’s stunning short fiction.”
—Mike Landry, Telegraph-Journal

And Also Sharks was included in The Coast’s Best Books of 2011!

And Also Sharks was very kindly reviewed in Necessary Fiction by a writer in Austin, Texas!

Pickle Me This is a fan of And Also Sharks. (Read Kerry Clare’s review here)

The Book Stylist reviewed And Also Sharks and proclaims: “This is one of my at-first-I-wanted-you-for-your-looks-but-it-turns-out-you-also-have-a-great-personality kind of books.”

interviews, readings, and other delightful items


Listen to me read an excerpt from “Empathize or Die” on the Taddle Creek podcast.

I gab about diningroom tables, trolls, the dreaded social eye-dart, and the Ricky Gervais Police with the engaging John Degen on The Book Room.

Radio interview for “Click here” with Mitchell Caplan on Ottawa’s CHUO-FM89 (June 2011). Thanks to Greg Kampf and Derek Wuenschirs for recording and posting magic!

I read an excerpt from “What I Would Say” (in And Also Sharks) for TNBBC’s The Next Best Book Club Blog Audio Series! Listen here.

Found Press teamed up with the Draft Reading Series to host a “sort-of-cyber-edition” where writers and readers (including me!) came together at the Merchants of Green café in Toronto to chat about e-publishing and read excerpts from Found Press stories. You can listen to audio clips from the day here.

WordPlay, a project presented by WordFest and Six Degrees, is a radio play produced from my short story “Community” in And Also Sharks. You can listen to the radio play here. Many thanks to WordFest and Six Degrees’ wonderful director, Christian Goutsis, and his incredible cast of voice actors. The sound effects are pretty cool too.


“The Curious Head of Jessica Westhead” (feature by Ashleigh Gaul in the summer 2011 issue of Broken Pencil)

Erica Ruth Kelly interviewed me for Maisonneuve—read our Q&A here.

Shawn Syms mentions the title story in And Also Sharks in his great piece on social media in short fiction for The Toronto Review of Books.

Q&A with The Danforth Review

selected reviews of Pulpy & Midge


“Westhead finds weirdness in the everyday, exploring such universal indignities as forgetting the receptionist’s name or having to stake claim to coffee mugs from the communal kitchen. Despite this familiarity, the book takes on a slightly surreal tone through highly mannered dialogue. The novel’s chief challenge lies in making a passive character compelling, and in that it largely succeeds, through subtle clues that Pulpy and his wife are much more aware than outsiders give them credit for.”
Quill & Quire

“Pubs under office towers are filled with stories of the Boss from Hell. Some workers chortle over their beer. Others cry into it. In her debut novel, Jessica Westhead brings the monster boss home for dinner.”
The Globe & Mail

“Pulpy Lembeck, whose moniker is the result of a long-standing college joke related to his prodigious orange juice consumption, is the unassertive protagonist of Torontonian Jessica Westhead’s comedic debut novel, Pulpy & Midge… The strength of Pulpy & Midge is dialogue, of which there is a great deal.”
The Toronto Star

“In Pulpy & Midge, you end up genuinely liking the title characters, not just as characters, but as people. And the more I liked Pulpy, the more I liked his author. Westhead has a real gift for dialogue, creating a vibrant world that exists almost completely between quotation marks… Westhead is an expert at creating tension, whether it is between or within characters. Because almost everyone in Pulpy & Midge is polite, the tension inhabits the spaces between the lines, cold as ice.”
Broken Pencil (fiction review of the issue)

“Deftly written from start to finish, Westhead’s comic tale is narrated in an almost deadpan style she manages to retain, even as the tension in Pulpy’s life expands to the breaking point. Not so over-the-top as Dilbert, Pulpy & Midge nevertheless skewers today’s corporate office scene with equal relish.”
The Record

“Don’t let the cartoonish title fool you—the book’s most obvious comparison is the TV series The Office; Pulpy & Midge has the same wry pacing. With charming design and a storyteller’s skill, Westhead keeps her fiction fresh by letting the audience follow the characters through ordinary workdays as Pulpy waits for his imminent promotion.”
Eye Weekly

Good dialogue is a rare thing and Westhead is having fun with her talent. You can almost see her tapping out the quirky banter with a half grin. At times, the dialogue is so fast and fun you miss your bus stop while reading about Pulpy missing his (oh irony)… The sharp dialogue allows Pulpy & Midge to be casually comedic one moment and dead serious the next.
The Southernmost Review

other reviews

Broken Pencil reviews poetry winner II
Jessica’s Poetry Winner II is hilarious. Her zine takes us on a witty adventure through the web site of the International Library of Poetry. Jessica looks up her name and finds the poem she had submitted represented. “Ode to Sparky” has found posterity on their database. Meanwhile, she writes another ode (this one a bit more risque) which seemingly disappears off the web site. She phones a customer representative for the site and taunts them (even though she states that the rep “seemed like a very nice person, with an impeccable sense of humour”) concerning the whereabouts of her newly fashioned poem. With her commitment to vanity and self-indulgence, Jessica provides a look at the aftermath of being a “poetry winner” and its ramifications, neatly sending up both the poets who send in their work, and the for-profit poetry publisher the International Library of Poetry.

selected interviews

on BookTV:

12 or 20 questions by rob mclennan

on Pickle Me This