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Fiction Family Life


by (author) Marjorie Celona

Penguin Group Canada
Initial publish date
Jun 2013
Family Life, Coming of Age, Literary
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jun 2013
    List Price

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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.

About the author

Marjorie Celona received her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was an Iowa Arts Fellow and recipient of the John C. Shupes Fellowship. Her stories have appeared in Best American Nonrequired Reading, Glimmer Train, and Harvard Review. Born and raised on Vancouver Island, she lives in Cincinnati.

Marjorie Celona's profile page


  • Nominated, Scotiabank Giller Prize

Editorial Reviews

"A compulsively readable debut." - National Post
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. 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 TransAtlantic and Let the Great World Spin
"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
"A sharp and compassionate exploration of the split nature of decisions." - The Sunday Times (UK)
In Y, her stunning debut novel, Marjorie Celona has created a world so rich and so full that every line merely seems to conform something that has already happened..." - The Globe and Mail
"Ms. Celona adroitly confounds many of our expectations...[I]t'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
"Marjorie Celona's Y isn't merely an extraordinary debut... 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 incredible characters, and Y is a triumph." - Michael Griffith, author of Trophy
"Debut author Marjorie Celona eloquently intertwines Shannon's story with that of the girl's 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 are from, and that what we make of things can matter more than anything." - Chatelaine
"[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
"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
"An accomplished and heart-warming story, Y is a modern variation of the archetypal coming of age tale." - The Walrus
"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 see her world [and] renders a character readers will love in all her glorious self-doubt." - The Boston Globe
"[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
"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 Dissappeared
"Celona writes movingly about basic questions of identity..." - Kirkus Reviews
"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
"Skillful 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
"Skillful 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
"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 the 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
“Stunning.” - The Globe and Mail
“Filled with grace and compassion.” - Heather O'neill
"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

User Reviews

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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