Warning: If you have not read “Y” by Marjorie Celona, do not read this review if you wish to avoid spoilers. If you don’t mind spoilers or already read the book, feel free to read this!
I’m back with another book review, and this time it’s “Y” by Marjorie Celona! Here’s a summary so we know what it’s about:
“Y. That perfect letter. The wishbone, fork in the road, empty wineglass. The question we ask over and over. Why? . . . My life begins at the Y.”
So opens Marjorie Celona’s highly acclaimed and exquisitely rendered debut about a wise-beyond-her-years foster child abandoned as a newborn on the doorstep of the local YMCA. Swaddled in a dirty gray sweatshirt with nothing but a Swiss Army knife tucked between her feet, little Shannon is discovered by a man who catches only a glimpse of her troubled mother as she disappears from view. That morning, all three lives are forever changed. Bounced between foster homes, Shannon endures abuse and neglect until she finally finds stability with Miranda, a kind but no-nonsense single mother with a free-spirited daughter of her own. Yet Shannon defines life on her own terms, refusing to settle down, and never stops longing to uncover her roots — especially the stubborn question of why her mother would abandon her on the day she was born.
Brilliantly and hauntingly interwoven with Shannon’s story is the tale of her mother, Yula, a girl herself who is facing a desperate fate in the hours and days leading up to Shannon’s birth. As past and present converge, Y tells an unforgettable story of identity, inheritance, and, ultimately, forgiveness. Celona’s ravishingly beautiful novel offers a deeply affecting look at the choices we make and what it means to be a family, and it marks the debut of a magnificent new voice in contemporary fiction.”
Plotwise, it’s simple enough to understand. Shannon is abandoned by her mother and ends up going from foster home to foster home until she’s finally with Miranda. In the meanwhile, Shannon tries to find out more about her birth parents. Intertwined with this is the subplot in the form of flashbacks regarding Shannon’s mother Yula, from when Yula conceived Shannon up to around when Shannon was born. I found that the plot, though understandable, really lagged in pace a lot, especially in the middle-to-end of the book. Shannon seems to never get any real hope spots in her story except close to the end of the book when she meets Vaughn, the man who found her abandoned when she was an infant, and then later reunited with her birth mother.
As for the characters, Shannon as a character did not feel fully convincing to me. Although Shannon has a very negative view on life I think it’s very understandable after all she has been through. However, her resorting to drugs and even running away from home was not the right way to fight her inner battles, and her constantly resisting trying to be a real part of Miranda’s family got hugely annoying at times. Because of this, I couldn’t sympathize much with Shannon.
I liked the character Vaughn in the book, and I’m glad that he actually got to meet Shannon years later after finding her. It was like having this set of bookends—Shannon’s story started and ended with him, in a way. I wish I would have seen more of him, because it makes me wonder what he did during the whole time inbetween finding Shannon and then reuniting with her again later on. Did he ever wonder ‘where did that kid go now?’ or try to get in contact? Did he try to forget, because the fact that he gave the wrong description of her mother made him feel guilty for not helping to find Yula at the time? I wish I could read more of him.
I think the writing style of the book was fine, but I didn’t feel a huge emotional punch. The story is supposed to focus what it takes to make a family, but I found this message to being swamped by the unfortunate and unpleasant events that happen throughout the book.
Overall, I’m rating this 2.5 out of 5 stars.