Y: A Novel by Marjorie Celona
For the first sixteen years of her life, Shannon never knew her parents. Left by her mother on the steps of a YMCA just hours after her birth, the young girl’s abandonment is witnessed by only one man. Her destiny remained bleak and uncertain as she was shuffled through foster homes, her name altered and her childhood a blur.
Y is the captivating story of Shannon’s plight to come to terms with the hand she’s been dealt. It’s a remarkable narrative on life and the perpetual question of "why", examining what drives us to make life-altering decisions. The novel follows Shannon as she finally finds a permanent home with a strong-willed single mother, struggles with the weight of her little life, and eventually commits to the decision to find her parents. The biggest danger becomes whether her search will uncover things best left alone. Alternating between Shannon’s young life and the story of her mother, Yula, the novel delves into the bond between mothers and daughters, and the unforeseeable connections they share.
Marjorie Celona’s debut is a stunning work, hauntingly paced and meticulously crafted. There’s a self-certainty to her prose that leaves a profound mark on the reader, and her wonderful, sad, enchanting young heroine only amplifies the significance of the story. Shannon is remarkable in every way, the sort of character that will leave a lasting impression on the reader. At times bitterly sad, other times charmingly witty, Shannon’s narrative holds the reader in an unflinching, riveted curiosity. With wisdom and sarcasm well beyond her age, she examines her life as well as her mother’s, the events that led to her birth and the many heart-rending fragments afterward, all dogged by the same daunting question: why? From her relationship with her adoptive sister to an ill-advised attempt to run away, Shannon dissects her life decisions with extraordinary insight and honesty. She becomes a friend to the reader, somewhat distant but all heart, as her story is explored, intertwined with the fateful plight of her pregnant eighteen year-old mother, sixteen years in the past.
I was moved, quieted, and deeply fascinated by Y and Celona’s beautiful writing; this is a writer whose career I look forward to following. The boldness with which she conceived her story is utterly admirable, as is the fearlessness with which she handled several unhappy topics. Everything about Y manages a chilling but brilliant picture in the reader’s mind, and Celona softens all of the book's supporting characters just enough for the astonishing mind of Shannon to come into its full glory at the novel’s center. The Canadian backdrop of both city and wilderness are depicted with both a subtle grace and impacting detail that illuminates every corner of the novel. Y is, as a result, an affecting story and a striking example of the art of literature at its finest.