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4.5 of 5
3 ratings
list price: $30
also available: Paperback
category: Fiction
published: Aug 2012
imprint: Hamish Hamilton


by Marjorie Celona

reviews: 2
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4.5 of 5
3 ratings
list price: $30
also available: Paperback
category: Fiction
published: Aug 2012
imprint: Hamish Hamilton

Y. That perfect letter. The wishbone, fork in the road, empty wine glass. The question we ask over and over. Why?

My life begins at the Y.

So begins the story of Shannon, a newborn baby dumped at the doors of the YMCA, swaddled in a dirty grey sweatshirt with nothing but a Swiss Army knife. She is found moments later by a man who catches a mere glimpse of her troubled mother as she disappears from view. All three lives are forever changed by the single decision. 

Bounced between foster homes, Shannon endures neglect and abuse but then finds stability and love in the home of Miranda, a kind single mother who refuses to let anything ever go to waste. But as Shannon grows, so do the questions inside her. Where is she from? Who is her true family? Why would they abandon her on the day she was born?

The answers lie in the heartbreaking tale of Yula, Shannon's mother, a girl herself and one with a desperate fate. Yula spends her days caring for her bitter widowed father and her spirited toddler Eugene until the day she meets Harrison, a man who will protect her but also a man with a dark past and stories yet to be revealed. Soon they are expecting a daughter but as Yula goes into labour, she and Harrison are caught in a tragic series of events that will destroy their family and test their limits of compassion and sacrifice.

Eventually the two stories converge to shape an unforgettable story of family, identity and inheritance. Written with rare beauty, wisdom, and intimacy, Y is a novel that asks “why?” even as it reveals that the answer isn’t always clear and that it may not always matter.

Contributor Notes

Marjorie Celona received her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was an Iowa Arts Fellow and recipient of the Ailene Barger Barnes Prize. Her stories have appeared in Best American Nonrequired Reading,Glimmer Train, and Harvard Review. Her debut novel, Y, was nominated for the 2012 Sotiabank Giller Prize. Born and raised on Vancouver Island, she lives in Cincinnati.

  • , Scotiabank Giller Prize
Editorial Review

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

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
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 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 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
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 Husband and Wife
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
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 and to marvel at: the nimbly interbraided stories of a mother and daughter trying to make sense of, and lives from, their severely straitened circumstances; 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 her characters’ psychologies, at the empathetic attention she pays 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
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
“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, partly because she doesn’t feel sorry for herself, at least not for long, or blame others for her struggles.” - The New York Times
“A sharp and compassionate exploration of the split nature of decisions.” - The Sunday Times (U.K.)
“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
“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
“Celona does a beautiful job bringing in Shannon’s insidious insecurity … This reads almost like a modern-day fable—complete with a family that lives in the forest—but somehow makes sense as a complement to the more trudging tale of Shannon’s growing up. It measures up, in dramatic value, to the kind of bravery it takes to cope with losing your family.” - Maclean’s
“[Y] comes to life with unique details and a suspenseful back and forth between Yula, a teenage girl losing herself to a drug-addicted bad boy, and Shannon, the daughter she abandons to a troubled life in the foster care system.” - Flare magazine
“First-time novelist Marjorie Celona creates characters so vivid you worry about them when you set the book down.” - More magazine
“A gorgeous, moving debut novel…. 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
Y is a beautiful, moving book that explores what it takes to belong from a new author with a voice that is bold, surefooted and confident.” - The Guardian
Y is “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
“Celona writes movingly about basic questions of identity….” - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Celona’s prose is fluid and clean, and Shannon and the novel’s other characters are rendered in such clear-eyed detail as to make them utterly relatable even in the direst of moments…. It is often harder to ask why than it is to ask how. Why can be as hard a question to answer as it is to ask, but Celona does so beautifully and with great compassion for her characters.” - Vancouver Observer
“Skilful storytelling…With any mystery in life there is a question: is it better to know or not to know? Celona’s book explores that question with grace, wit and insight. She’s a talented writer and this is a well-written story that is both sad and heart warming. Once readers meet Shannon and read about her truth, they are unlikely to forget her.” - Vancouver Sun
“Celona’s writing [is] expansive…. Y leads to a thoughtful, redemptive conclusion.” - The Wall Street Journal
“Beautifully written…” - Daily Herald Tribune
“Celona's clean, fluid prose makes Y a fast and enjoyable read, and her engaging portrayal of Shannon…is both heartbreaking and hilarious. Like Dickens, Celona shines a light on the people society has forgotten; the lonely, the hungry, the hopeless and unloved. In some ways, Y is a modern telling of the classic orphan story perfected by Dickens. But more than that, it's about family, whatever shape it takes, and the need to belong.” - Winnipeg Free Press
“[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
Y opens with a woman leaving her newborn baby at the doors of a YMCA, but this heartbreaking 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 magazine
“A meditation on loss, identity, and family, Y showcases a tenacious young writer as she schools us in compassion and ultimately cleans house.” - O Magazine
“The book of the fall ... A compulsively readable debut.” - National Post
"In Y, her stunning debut novel, Marjorie Celona has created a world so rich and so full that every line merely seems to confirm something that has already happened…" - The Globe and Mail
"A splendid start for a first novelist who can create characters with many of the qualities of a brave Oliver Twist or an independent Anne Shirley.” - Toronto Star
"An accomplished and heart-wrenching story, Y is a modern variation of the archetypal coming of age tale." - The Walrus
Y is a “novel about the interplay of chance and choice in our lives. We are born in a certain place, to certain people, but the choices we make later in life are our own. Enthralling!” - Quill & Quire
"Debut author Marjorie Celona eloquently intertwines Shannon’s story with that of the girl’s birth mother, Yula, and the tragic events that led to that day outside the YMCA in a novel that is heartbreaking and optimistic. Shannon is a firecracker of a character — honest to a fault, feisty and brave. Y is a testament to the idea that family is sometimes what we create, not where we come from, and that what we make of things can matter more than anything." - Chatelaine

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Librarian review

Y Not

An outstanding first novel by Marjorie Celona! I too could hardly put the book down. Written as alternating points of view from the abandoned daughter and the birth mother, it had me guessing as to how the two would reconcile.

Y by Marjorie Celona

I absolutely adored Y. The characters came across as real people and I fell deep into their lives. I could hardly put this book down. It gripped me as few books do for a reason I can't explain. I was in tears several times and found myself routing out loud for Shannon. A great novel for all.

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