TORONTO -- When their library gathering space—and book source—shut down at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a local reading club for teenage girls could have closed its own chapter.

But founder Tanya Lee decided to mail out materials to the 15 young members—and soon realized how important it was to keep it alive.

“They told me how me mailing those books really helped with their depression during the pandemic, because they weren’t allowed to go out,” Lee told CTV News Toronto. “They lived in high-priority neighbourhoods where the COVID-19 rates were really high.”

With schools shuttered and social connections severed, the group decided to move the “A Room of Your Own” club meet-ups online. Before long it became an escape from the stress of COVID-19 and the accompanying isolation.

“Everyone was feeling so lonely, we didn’t really have much to do,” said Ali Chamberlain, 14. “The books and being able to talk about them—I’d get so excited about the book club.”

Soon, hundreds of other young women from across the country began to join in, and Lee put out the call for corporate sponsors to provide books to the growing group. Chapman’s Ice Cream donated 600 novels and Lee is hoping more companies will answer the call.

Every book featured by the club has a strong female protagonist, providing the members with identifiable characters from every walk of life.

“The books we’re reading are stories of empowerment of women that we can really relate to,” Chamberlain said.

“I like them a lot better than the ones we read at school,” echoed Soleil Bignall, 15. “I also like the fact that it’s mainly female authors.”

The members have had a chance to meet many of the writers, including Michelle Obama, who they met on the former First Lady’s book tour in 2019.

book club

Since the pandemic hit, authors have joined their twice-monthly meetings virtually, giving the teens a chance to interact with them online—and develop other social connections at the same time.

“It’s a great experience to be able to meet authors, read a bunch of books, talk about them with people who also read the book, and are enthusiastic about it,” said Amelia Zdaniuk, 13.

But it is clear, said Lee, that for many the club became a lifeline during lockdown—providing social support and creating connections that will last beyond the pandemic.

“I knew it would help, but I didn’t know the extent to how much they needed that,” she said.

“We’re reading books that we really didn’t know we needed,” said Chamberlain.