Y, Marjorie Celona

This is one of those novels that caught me off-guard: a debut novel, no recommendation to sway me, but the cover caught my eye, and once I read the inside flap, I knew I had to read the book. From the first paragraph, I was hooked, and I read Y in two days.

Y is a story about what family means. Who is your family? Is it the people who gave birth to you, who passed their genes to you, and whom you look like? Or is family the people that raised you, that love you no matter what, and are there for you when no one else is?
For Shannon, these are more than academic concepts- they are the story of her life. Shannon was left on the steps of a YMCA when she was just a few hours old. She spent her early years in foster homes (some worse than others) until she was adopted by Miranda, whose biological daughter Lydia-Rose is close in age to Shannon. Miranda is not rich but works hard to give her girls a good life. She treats them both fairly with love and discipline.
As Shannon gets older, she begins to founder. She becomes jealous of the biological relationship between her adoptive mother and sister. She tunes out in school. It doesn’t help that she is odd-looking: very short, with no figure, a blind lazy eye, and a wild crown of white blonde curls.
Shannon drifts towards the things that attract troubled teens: sex, smoking, drugs, skipping school, and eventually running away from home. She seems determined to test the limits of Miranda’s and Lydia-Rose’s love for her. Finally she gets the courage to begin looking for her biological family, to find out more about who she is and why she was abandoned as a baby.
Interspersed with the story of Shannon’s life is the story of her mother, Yula. Its a sad and somewhat sparse tale that explains how a mother could come to think that abandoning her baby was the best choice for both of them, and the only hope for her daughter to have a good life.

I won’t give away the ending of the book. Our human nature is to want a happy ending, with all the loose ends tied up. The reality (especially for people like Shannon) is that sometimes there are no answers to your questions, and sometimes its better not to know. I felt like the author did a good job with an ending that balanced these two elements.
Y was a surprise book, that turned into an unexpected gift. It was short, but deeply impactful. I have a feeling I’ll pick it up, to revisit these characters, again.


You might like: The Language of Flowers, Diffenbaugh. The Story of Beautiful Girl,  Simon. The Condition, Haigh.


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