"My life begins at the Y ..." So begins the story of Shannon, a newborn baby dumped at the doors of the YMCA. Bounced between foster homes, Shannon defines life on her own terms even as she longs to uncover her roots. Where is she from? Who is her true family? Why would they abandon Shannon on the very day she was born?
The answers lie in the heartbreaking tale of her mother, a girl herself and one with a desperate fate. Through Marjorie Celona's intimate observations and quirky wit, the two stories converge to shape a unique and lasting story of identity and family. This novel asks us to consider the "why" of our lives even as it reveals that the answer isn't always clear and it doesn't always matter.
Written with rare beauty and power, Y marks the debut of an astonishing new talent.
My life begins at the Y. I am born and left in
front of the glass doors, and even though the sign is flipped
“Closed,” a man is waiting in the parking lot and he sees it
all: my mother, a woman in navy coveralls, emerges from
behind Christ Church Cathedral with a bundle wrapped
in grey, her body bent in the cold wet wind of the summer
morning. Her mouth is open as if she is screaming, but
there is no sound here, just the calls of birds. The wind
gusts and her coveralls blow back from her body, so that
the man can see the outline of her skinny legs and distended
belly as she walks toward him, the tops of her brown
workman’s boots. Her coveralls are stained with motor oil,
her boots far too big. She is a small, fine-boned woman,
with shoulders so broad that at first the man thinks he is
looking at a boy. She has deep brown hair tied back in a
bun and wild, moon-grey eyes.
There is a coarse, masculine look to her face, a meanness. Even in the chill, her brow is beaded with sweat. The man watches her stop at the entrance to the parking lot and wrench back her head to look at the sky. She is thinking. Her eyes are wide with determination and fear. She takes a step forward and looks around her. The street is full of pink and gold light from the sun, and the scream of a seaplane comes fast overhead, and the wet of last night’s rain is still present on the street, on the sidewalk, on the buildings’ reflective glass. My mother listens to the plane, to the birds. If anyone sees her, she will lose her nerve. She looks up again, and the morning sky is as blue as a peacock feather.
The man searches her face. He has driven here from Langford this morning, left when it was still so dark that he couldn’t see the trees. Where he lives, deep in the forest, no sky is visible until he reaches the island highway. On his road, the fir trees stretch for hundreds of feet above him and touch at the tips, like a barrel vault. This road is like a nave, he thinks every time he drives it, proud, too proud, of his metaphor, and he looks at the arches, the clerestory, the transept, the choir, the trees. He rolls down his window, feels the rush of wind against his face, in his hair, and pulls onto the highway: finally, the sky, the speed. It opens up ahead of him, and the trees grow shorter and shorter as he gets closer to town; the wide expanse of the highway narrows into Douglas Street, and he passes the bus shelters, through the arc of streetlights, past the car dealership where he used to work, the 7-Eleven, Thompson’s Foam Shop, White Spot, Red Hot Video, and then he is downtown, no trees now, but he can finally smell the ocean, and if he had more time he’d drive right to the tip of the island and watch the sun come up over Dallas Road. It is so early but already the women have their thumbs out, in tight...
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“The book of the fall.”
— National Post
— The Globe And Mail
— Quill & Quire
“Filled with grace and compassion.”
— Heather O’Neill
— Toronto Star
— The Walrus
“Heartbreaking and optimistic.”
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 as Shannon moves back and forth through the chronology of her life but also through her imaginative vision of her parents’ relationship. Along the way, she confronts the most painful question one can ask: Why was I abandoned? It turns out, there’s an eyewitness, Vaughn, who saw Shannon being deposited on the steps of the Y, and eventually, Shannon seeks him out to get one perspective on her story. (For one thing, she wants to know whether her mother kissed her before she abandoned her.) Shannon eventually discovers a complex and troubled family history that involves a variety of dysfunctions, including drinking and drugs. As a child, Shannon moves through several foster homes, each with its own issues, before she settles in with Miranda, a single mom with a daughter, Lydia-Rose. As one might expect, Shannon’s relationship with both stepmother and stepsister is rocky—and Shannon is not, after all, the easiest child to raise. Shannon’s birth mother, Yula, is herself a teenager when Shannon is born, and her father, Harrison, does drugs. Eventually, Shannon develops curiosity about her birthparents and seeks them out, leading to yet more emotional trauma.
Celona writes movingly about basic questions of identity, questions exacerbated by the unhappy circumstances of Shannon’s birth.
—Kirkus, starred review
“An evocative look into what makes a family, and what makes a home, and how they are undeniably helixed together.”
—Colum McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin
“Y is moving and utterly beautiful. Dark and bright, fresh and original, this novel grabs you and doesn’t let go.”
—Amanda Boyden, author of Pretty Little Dirty
“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
“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, author of Let the Great World Spin
“Marjorie Celona’s Y is the best novel I’ve read this year. A young woman’s search for her birth parents becomes, through Celona’s brightly lit prose, an 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
“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 in which the coming of age of Shannon, a child abandoned by her mother shortly after her birth, is also a quest for the treasure of an identify that has to be sifted from the detritus of damaged lives. 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. Many stories quest for understanding, but few can deliver: Y delivers the goods. It’s a wonderful debut.”
—Marilyn Bowering, Author of What It Takes To Be Human
“I was enraptured by Shannon's fierce searching heart. I felt the aching emptiness of missing pieces and the healing of discovering one's true family. 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
“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 Body of a Girl, The Myth of You and Me, and Husband and Wife