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Y: A Novel Hardcover – January 8, 2013
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A dazzling new series, a pure adrenaline rush, debuts with Jane Hawk, a remarkable heroine certain to become an icon of suspense. See more
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Set on Vancouver Island, Celona’s compelling first novel opens with a desperate young mother abandoning her newborn girl on the front steps of the Victoria YMCA. Passed back and forth, cradled in one set of arms then another, the child is first granted the name Shandi, then Samantha, and later, Shannon. One foster mother rewards Shannon with a cube of cheese if she manages to sit still, but the restless three-year-old is more often met by abuse and eventually banished to live with another family. At age five, Shannon is adopted by Miranda, a single mother whose only expectations of her daughter are fairness, kindness, and respect. While Shannon thrives living in this caring household, she struggles to reconcile the pain of her unknown past. Humorously self-deprecating (I’m not hideous, but I’m definitely a cross between Shirley Temple and a pug), teenage Shannon embarks on an odyssey of self-discovery. This is at once a moving coming-of-age story full of fresh starts, a haunting family story full of heavy disappointments, and an extraordinarily quiet story full of hope. --Miriam Tuliao
"[A] heartfelt first novel . . . . Ms. Celona adroitly confounds many of our expectations . . . . It's refreshing to read a novel in which questions are not so much answered as extended, and Shannon is an appealing narrator... Celona is compassionate toward even her most wayward characters, figuring wisely that the consequences of their actions will be punishment enough." (The New York Times)
"Y is a beautiful, moving book that explores what it takes to belong from a new author with a voice that is bold, sure footed and confident." (The Guardian (UK))
“A gorgeous, moving debut...[Shannon] emerges as a character of enormous strength, a survivor who is unflappably honest about her shortcomings….Celona writes with acute sensitivity to how a child sees her world [and] renders a character readers will love in all her glorious self-doubt.” (The Boston Globe)
“A feat of storytelling. It will leave you raw but softened, carrying a brutal reminder that family is both made and given, something we must endure and embrace.” (The Dallas Morning News)
“A double-strand novel about a Vancouver Island foundling and the young mother who left her on the steps of the Y… Celona pulls off this sleight-of-narrative in blunt, tamped-down prose that is worthy of comparison to [Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina]. The scenes are swift and clear, the transitions are well-cued and the reader's sympathies adhere easily to Shannon's lonely, stubborn efforts to squirm into a safe place in the world.” (Shelf Awareness)
"[A] stunning debut novel . . . Celona creates a beautifully tangled web that is equal parts mystery (seriously, this one's a page-turner), poetry and deep rumination on the meaning of family." (PureWow Books)
“I love ambition in a novel. I love humour, audacity, perseverance, craft. And I am deeply grateful when it gets exquisitely blended in a brand-new voice. Marjorie Celona’s debut weaves the twin stories of a foster child’s search for home and the raw account of her mother’s decision to abandon her newborn. Y is an evocative look into what makes a family, and what makes a home, and how they are undeniably helixed together.” (Colum McCann, National Book Award-winning author of Let the Great World Spin)
“Compelling…This is at once a moving coming-of-age story full of fresh starts, a haunting family story full of heavy disappointments, and an extraordinarily quiet story full of hope.” (Booklist)
“Y is everything I’m hoping for when I open a book—suspenseful, compelling, psychologically deft, and beautifully written, with characters so alive they seem to be in the room. Marjorie Celona is a brilliant writer at the start of a brilliant career.” (Leah Stewart, author of The Myth of You and Me and The History of Us)
“A wee baby girl is left behind and even before she opens her eyes, she begins to describe her extraordinary world. Y is filled with heartbreaking loss and flawed heroes yet Celona’s writing is filled with grace and compassion.” (Heather O’Neill, author of Lullabies for Little Criminals)
“Marjorie Celona’s Y is the best novel I’ve read this year . . . [A]n unforgettable story about the nature of time itself, the way our past is always alive in the present, shaping us into who we are. With more honesty, compassion, and warmth than is sometimes fashionable in contemporary fiction, this novel will stay with you long after the last page is turned.” (Anthony Varallo, author of Out Loud)
“Marjorie Celona’s Y is moving and utterly beautiful. Dark and bright, fresh and original, this novel grabs you and doesn’t let go. What an extraordinary new voice!” (Amanda Boyden, author of Pretty Little Dirty)
“I was enraptured by Shannon’s fierce searching heart . . . With a child’s defiance, hurt and brittle vulnerability, she led me through a world littered with the abandoned, lost, and broken and brought back forgiveness.” (Shandi Mitchell, author of Under this Unbroken Sky)
“Marjorie Celona’s Y isn’t merely an extraordinary debut; it would be cause for celebration if it were the author’s second or fifth or twentieth novel. There’s so much to relish: the nimbly interbraided stories of a mother and daughter . . . ; the lovely, lucid, haunting prose; the subtle, precise command of tone. But above all I marvel at Celona’s clear-eyed and heartbreakingly complex depiction of . . . the fierce, flawed, lovable people at this terrific novel’s heart. These are indelible characters, and Y is a triumph.” (Michael Griffith, author of Trophy)
“Y is the story of humanity’s first question: Who am I? This novel tells a pain-filled, utterly essential quest to know who one’s family is. There is Oedipus. There is Pip. Now there is Shannon, compelled to search through unbearable secrets and trauma. The style is accomplished, the voice hauntingly matter-of-fact.” (Kim Echlin, author of The Disappeared)
“I couldn’t get enough of Shannon, the charming, brave, and blistering heart of this novel. She’s open to everyone she meets––mothers, fathers, the homeless, the addicted––so her story is too. Marjorie Celona has written a novel that is funny, contemporary, and heartbreaking, a novel that is in love with life.” (Deborah Willis, author of Vanishing and Other Stories)
“Richly textured, gritty, surprising, and innocent, Marjorie Celona’s tale of an abandoned child explores the undercurrents of small town experience; it’s a blue-collar world of courage, goodness, and violence . . . Celona has mapped place and class in a way I haven’t read before, and she has created a character with such heart that I didn’t want the story to end.” (Marilyn Bowering, author of What It Takes to Be Human)
"As a newborn, Shannon is abandoned at the local “Y”—and then spends much of her young life asking “Why?” The cards seem stacked against Shannon as she tries to piece together the fragments of her life. Celona reconstructs the story with an almost Faulkner-ian complexity [and] writes movingly about basic questions of identity." (Kirkus, starred review)
“Y opens with a woman leaving her newborn baby at the doors of a YMCA, but this hearbreaking debut novel is more than just another hardscrabble foundling tale. Weaving together the vivid narratives of the mother and the daughter she abandoned, Celona crafts an unforgettable story about family and identity.” (All You)
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Top Customer Reviews
Shannon tells both her story, and the story of her parents and her birth. The alternation between Shannon's current life and the time leading up to her birth works well, and I wasn't sure it would when I first started reading the book. Shannon is definitely precocious, and it is a little disjointing to have a sometimes very adult story told by a child so wise beyond her years.
I started the book with a little trepidation- whatever it was I read that made me order the book led me to think I would find it heartbreaking and sad. Parts of it were indeed heartbreaking, particularly the story of little Eugene. I don't think, however, it vilifies the foster care system the way the preview of the book that I read made it sound like it would. It seems like the system itself did a reasonably good job for Shannon within the parameters they have. It does show a need for continued reform, better vetting of foster parents, and more support for children in the system.
Here's the thing. Through much of the book, I was ambivalent about Shannon. I felt sorry for her in many respects, but I also got exasperated with her sometimes. That being said, I believe Shannon's actions are largely, though not completely, justified by the turmoil she feels from knowing she was abandoned and struggling to find a sense of belonging and permanence. By the end of the book, though, I felt satisfied. I felt like Shannon would be OK, that she would go on to a reasonably good and stable life. Given her start, that may be enough to hope for.
For a debut novel, I think Celona did a wonderful job. She gave us flawed characters in a desperate situation. No real villains, but tragic people making bad decisions and living with the consequences. While at best a mutedly happy read, I do call Y: A Novel wholly satisfying.
Another reviewer wrote that it bothered them that Shannon was so quiet in all her emotions. While it's true she did not scream and shout--I did not feel this when I was reading it. The imagery was very strong. However, what kept me from giving it 5 stars were the following loose ends:
Was Julian, Shannon's second foster father molesting Shannon during the beating she can't remember? The book mentions some peculiar behavior between the two.
And what happened with Shannon's permanent foster mother and the mother's sister which made them estranged?
Overall a good read. And the writer may have wanted to leave loose ends but I feel like in this case, she could have given us a little more. I like it that Y is for YMCA and Yula. Y indeed!