Review: Y by Marjorie Celona
Source: Paperback edition, courtesy of Goodreads First Reads and Penguin Canada
Verdict: Very Good
My life begins at the Y.
So begins the story of Shannon, a newborn baby dumped at the doors of the YMCA. She is found moments later by a man who catches a mere glimpse of her troubled mother as she disappears from view. All three lives are forever changed by the single decision. Bounced between foster homes, Shannon endures neglect and abuse but then finds stability and love in the home of Miranda, a kind single mother who refuses to let anything ever go to waste. But as Shannon grows, so do the questions inside her. Where is she from? Who is her true family? Why would they abandon her on the day she was born? The answers lie in the heartbreaking tale of Yula, Shannon’s mother, a girl herself and one with a desperate fate. Eventually the two stories converge to shape an unforgettable story of family, identity and inheritance. Written with rare beauty, wisdom, and intimacy, Y is a novel that asks “why?” even as it reveals that the answer isn’t always clear and that it may not always matter.
Y, Celona’s unerringly blunt, uncomfortable, and beautifully written debut novel, is perhaps not for the faint of heart. At the root of this story is Shannon, our narrator and protagonist, left on the steps of a YMCA as a newborn. Left alone, without any family to come forward, Shannon is moved from one foster family to the next in her early years. Though there are moments of kindness but even rarer moments of joy: Shannon experiences periods of abuse, terror and fear at the hands of her foster parents- some of which leave Shannon with physical damage.
When a Shannon is later taken into the home of a single working mom named Miranda and her young daughter Lydia-Rose, better things feel imminent. While certain aspects of Shannon’s life improve, there are multiple setbacks and poor decisions that Shannon makes that shake the foundation of Miranda’s trust. What is more, as Shannon grows older and enters her teenage years, her interest in her birth mother and birth family take hold and refuses to dissipate. In alternating chapters between the past and present, Shannon tells the often grim (to the point of devastating) life story of her mother, Yula, and the events that lead up to the abandoning of her baby at the YMCA. Shannon’s obsession with ultimately meeting her birth mother leads her- and her adopted family- to an incredible and uncanny finale.
Overall, I thought Y was a very strong novel: well-written, well-developed and introspective. I found Shannon’s story to be- at many moments- one of such tremendous sadness that I didn’t think I could take any more. But the story that Celona unfolds, the trail left by Yula that leads to Shannon, is compelling and one that I simply could not let go of. I would recommend Y for fans of contemporary coming-of-age stories, Canadian fiction, and writers such as Jeanette Walls, Nick Hornby, Susan Juby, Annabel Lyon and Louise Erdrich.
Note: This review, written by me, originally appeared on Fabbity Fab Book Reviews. Minor edits may have been made.