Y: A Novel by Marjorie Celona
Published by Free Press, an imprint if Simon & Schuster
Review copy received at SIBA
Shannon is abandoned at the local YMCA by her birth mother when she is just hours old, found by an employee of the Y swaddled in an old sweatshirt with, oddly enough, a Swiss Army knife tucked between her feet. She spends her first few years of life with several different foster families, experiencing things that no child should have to, until she is placed with Miranda, a single mother with a daughter Shannon’s age. Growing up in Miranda’s house isn’t perfect, but it is a happy household for the most part, so Shannon should be content with her new family – instead, as she grows up, she longs for information about the mother who abandoned her and never feels truly at home in Miranda’s house. Interspersed with Shannon’s story is the story of her biological mother, Yula, a young, desperate girl who cannot possibly imagine providing her unborn daughter with the life she deserves. The choices she makes in the days and hours leading up to her daughter’s birth will have drastic, far-reaching consequences, for herself and for Shannon.
I really liked this one. It reminded me a lot of The Language of Flowers, a book I LOVED, and while I didn’t quite fall head-over-heels with Y, it was very close. I couldn’t put the thing down and there were many moments throughout the novel that resonated with me.
Shannon is the kind of character you can’t help rooting for. Since the reader follows her story from birth, by the time the book is over she feels like a complete and true person, not just a character in a novel. You can’t help but feel for her when, during the first few years of her life, she is treated poorly by some of her foster families and sees some things that children shouldn’t ever be privy to. There are moments in her adolescence when she becomes pretty insufferable, but it’s easy to get past that because it’s clear she’s acting out because she’s lonely, desperate to understand where she came from, hopeful to meet her birth parents, and all of that. She’s so confused and sad that she will do anything to keep those feelings at bay.
Yula is a bit more difficult to sympathize with. She’s had an incredibly difficult life, yes, but she’s also made some pretty horrific choices. Reading her story at times was like watching a ten-car pile-up in action – it was incredibly distressing, I wanted to look away, and yet I couldn’t tear myself away from the page. But she too crept into my heart and I wanted desperately for her to find a way to turn her awful situation around.
This novel will break your heart. It wasn’t the easiest book to read, at all, because Shannon goes through some really tough stuff, and Yula’s story – well, there are no words for Yula’s story. It’s devastating. Still, these two women crept into my soul and didn’t let go, and although their stories are heartbreaking and sad, the book itself is ultimately hopeful and actually quite beautiful. I will definitely be watching for more from Celona. Highly recommended.