Y – Marjorie Celona

y majorie celona

Y – Marjorie Celona
Faber and Faber, 2014

I found this book on the library shelf and the title really called out to me. The plot sounded interesting, and there’s a quote from one of my favourite authors, Evie Wyld, on the front. So I decided to borrow it.

Y starts with a man witnessing a woman leave a baby at the doors of the YMCA. The young girl grows up passed from foster home to foster home, her name being changed each time, until she eventually finds some form of stability with Miranda, a single mother with a daughter. But despite everything Miranda can offer the newly-named Shannon, she constantly finds herself questioning who she is, why her mother abandoned her, and who her real family are. As we follow Shannon’s story, we are also told the story of her mother, Yula, and how Shannon came to be left at the doors of the YMCA.

Yula’s story is desperately sad, with little to no let up, and I was moved by her struggles and the life she led. It is her story that I connected with most, and the one I remember more when I reflect on the book. However, I found it difficult to connect to her daughter, Shannon. I felt sympathetic to her and was constantly thinking how awful some of the situations she found herself in were, but that was as far as it went. There was constantly a distance between me and her, this barrier which stopped me from being completely enveloped in the story. At times she felt like a template or a vehicle for the story to move forward or for the author to explore the themes of belonging, family and how decisions impact our lives. I felt this particularly when Shannon is a teenager, often finding her stereotypical (moody, rebellious, isolating herself) and lacking in traits which made her feel like a real person. As Shannon got older, I found myself warming to her a little more, so perhaps it’s Celona’s representation of teenagers which didn’t sit right with me.

It’s an understated novel, which I enjoy. The cold, hard, often horrible facts of Shannon and Yula’s lives are written in a quiet way which makes it more powerful.

However, failing to connect with the main character and the book as a whole left me disappointed with this novel. It’s a sad tale which explores the idea of belonging and what family means, as well as contemplating how the decisions we make can affect our lives and those of others. It’s a novel which explores weighty and important themes, but the execution of this just slightly missed the mark for me.

Have you read Y? What did you think?

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2 thoughts on “Y – Marjorie Celona

  1. I recall seeing this novel around and about when it was first published a year or so ago but I haven’t seen a review of it for a while, so it’s interesting to hear your thoughts. It’s difficult when you find yourself distanced from a character. As you say, it can prevent you from feeling fully involved in the story. I think it’s Celona’s debut so perhaps the next one will be a step forward?

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