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Y by Marjorie Celona

Y (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Marjorie Celona

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1862163,528 (3.75)14
Authors:Marjorie Celona
Info:Toronto : H.H., 2012.
Collections:Your library

Work details

Y by Marjorie Celona (2012)

  1. 20
    Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neill (Yells)
  2. 21
    Room by Emma Donoghue (Iudita)
    Iudita: Another story about a troubled childhood, narrated by the child.

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A baby is abandoned at the Y. Why? Why do people choose the forks in the path that they do? People are so often incapable of recognising choices. They lack a perceptual awareness of their own abilities to influence their own course through their life. The novel follows the story of the abandoned baby and her childhood, and intersperses it with the story of her biological parents. The paths of the characters are littered with misery and bad choices. The bleakness is alleviated only a little by the naive hopes of the child.
The characters were sketched in bold strong strokes, but didn't feel filled in. The use of the city as a character itself helped compensate for this. The rich imageries of the various neighbourhoods of Victoria were replete with details that provided strong contexts for the story lines. I enjoyed this the most. As she walked her characters along Dallas Rd at the ocean front, past the World's Tallest Totem, and over to Ogden Point where the cruise ships berth, I saw it readily in my mind. The down and outs of Pandora Ave and other marginal areas dominated the book. The rural areas out west, beside a provincial park, also played true to form, harboring an eclectic mix of reclusive people who seek refuge in the environment of towering trees "forming a nave", like a church, or an Emily Carr painting, as noted by one of the characters.
( )
  TheBookJunky | Apr 22, 2016 |
Shannon, abandoned at birth, has a stable foster family and a good life but she is angry and unsettled and wants to find her mother. Yula is a young and pregnant; surrounded by drug abusing men and economic hardship, she does the unthinkable and gives up her newborn daughter. Two halves of the story, mother and daughter find each other and make an imperfect whole.

Beautifully written, unsympathetic look at the bonds of mother and child, tough decisions and what family really means. Step mother Miranda is the real heroine of the book. She provides Shannon with stability and tough love. The Y of the story is both the question and the fork in the road the characters face... lots of symbolism for this literary-critical mind to love. ( )
  mjspear | Dec 10, 2014 |
Y takes its title from the opening scene where 18 year old Yula leaves her newborn baby at the front door of the YMCA, and it also suggests the word “why?”, as in “why would someone abandon her baby?” The novel shifts back and forth in time and follows the baby, now named Shannon, as she is passed through foster care and eventually into a more stable home, and alternates with the story of Yula and what happens to her in the time leading up to Shannon’s birth.

Y has received rave reviews and was nominated for the Giller Prize. I’m stunned, because I thought the writing was fairly atrocious. I was able to make it through only because I listened to the audiobook, but if I’d been reading the paper copy I would have thrown it in the recycling bin before getting halfway through. A few of the negative comments I read were that readers found the characters unlikeable and the story unrelentingly depressing. This may be true, but is not my complaint.

To give the writer some credit, I think she handled the alternating storyline and the pacing well. Of course from the beginning the reader knows that this is going to be Shannon’s quest for her birth mother, and I was mildly interested in the path that would take. So it wasn’t all bad.

If I had a paper copy, I would have noted all the problems I had with how the story is written, but since I’ve already erased my electronic copy, I will just outline a few of my problems. Overall, I could see the author at work, and picture her checking her copious notes as she sat at her keyboard. I can see that she took a creative writing course, and was given the advice to add an air of reality and to paint a picture through the use of rich detail. She was also told to know absolutely everything about all her characters—not to use it in the novel necessarily, but to understand what makes them tick. Celona’s problem is that she couldn’t stop herself from including every single meaningless detail. The result is that for every minor character that is ever mentioned and every major character that enters a scene, the reader gets a sentence describing their hair, a sentence or two describing their complete outfit, and a sentence describing the effect of their physical appearance on Shannon. This made the narrative flow very clunky and mechanical. Before the end of the first chapter, it was making me scream. She also layered on the forced details like this with settings and locations. I often admire the magic an author can achieve with subtle details, but here I felt like she was bludgeoning me over the head with them.

Celona chose an unusual narrative technique, one that I will dub “first person omniscient.” The narrator, Shannon, knows details about other characters thoughts and motivations, even when she wasn’t there, even when she wasn’t born yet. Ultimately this is just a hinky form of third person narration.

And to really make sure I hated this book, Celona employs my pet peeve cliché of the young woman having sex for the first time and getting pregnant. In actuality, the chances of conceiving from any single sexual encounter is 3%-11%, but in literature, if you’re young and unmarried, it’s 100%, cause sluts have to be punished. Authors: if you want to have some credibility, stop. Please stop.

It’s pretty clear from the start where the novel would end up, and that was fine with me as it was really about the journey. However, I was surprised at how judgemental and preachy the ending was—colour me Not Impressed. ( )
3 vote Nickelini | Nov 13, 2014 |
Goodreads Synopsis:"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.

My Review: I received this book probably two years ago in exchange for a review, and I misplaced it for forever, or so I thought. It showed up at the weirdest time, right when I thought I lost the other book I read, and my kobo was dead. I thought, hey, I should probably get around to reading this! And am I glad I did. It's an amazing, touching story that I couldn't put down from the moment I opened the first page. It kept my attention for the whole entire book, and even though the ending didn't turn out like I thought it would, I loved every minute of it. The characters were exciting to learn about, I loved how the book was written, I loved every single chapter. It's an amazing read that I definitely think that more people should read, and definitely check it out if you get the chance. I'm sorry this review took so long to write! I didn't mean too, I just got busy! Thanks for reading. (':

(Radioactivebookreviews.wordpress.com) ( )
  aurora.schnarr | Jun 12, 2014 |
I read the excerpt of this novel that appeared in "Best American Non-Required Reading" and was very much impressed. For better or worse, this novel differs from that early version in some important ways: Celona's writing here is less dense and more inclined to take its time worrying over its characters. This doesn't mean that "Y" doesn't succeed in other ways, though. It's got a strong sense of place, a keen appreciation of the challenges faced by its teenage characters and, in places, beautiful and affecting descriptions of the familial and romantic ties that bind them. The book's plot revolves around a couple of big unknowns in the life of its orphaned narrator, but relationships are its real focus: its concerns, like most of its characters, are decidedly female-centric and most of its characters' motivations are plainly emotional in nature. Its characters struggle to cope with physical difference, to hang on to the lower reaches of the lower-middle class as best they can, to find a place for themselves in the world, to know themselves. It's not riveting stuff, sometimes, but it's still important. The book, it should be said, is committed to its characters' decidedly unglamorous patchwork existences, and there's something praiseworthy about a novel that doesn't try to get its characters exactly square by its last page. "Y" is probably a bit too long for its own good, and readers who prefer to think of the characters in the novels they read primarily as actors and decision-makers aren't likely to find much to entertain them here. But readers who believe that the most relevant literary journeys take place in the province of the human heart won't be disappointed. ( )
  TheAmpersand | Mar 27, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
The backstory about Shannon’s parents is told in alternating chapters with Shannon’s story. Celona weaves in their history, leaving readers guessing as much as Shannon is guessing. It’s a skilful storytelling tactic, and the two stories race to a well-paced peak at the end of the book.

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 heartwarming. Once readers meet Shannon and read about her truth, they are unlikely to forget her.

One of the strongest aspects of the novel is its exploration of how memory works, and how people misremember or block traumatic events as a form of self-protection...Though the trajectory of Shannon’s life story is upward and Yula’s is downward, Celona has nevertheless infused Yula’s more deliberately paced passages with enough depth and emotion to leave the reader invested in her. When the two stories finally meet, the novel becomes a real tear-jerker. Yula’s story is enthralling – arguably more so than Shannon’s – which makes it hard to let go of as Celona summarily skips over the 17 years in Yula’s life after she abandoned Shannon.

In the final analysis, Y is an uneven 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.
A first novel by West Coast writer Marjorie Celona, Y, fits resonantly into the category of orphan hero novels: a newborn, wrapped in her mother’s sweatshirt, is left at the doors of the YMCA one early morning. The foundling is bounced from one family to another until she is finally adopted by a cleaning woman of great empathy, Miranda. Miranda is a single mother bringing up her own daughter Lydia-Rose but is willing to open her heart to Shannon, a small girl with candy floss hair and a strabismic eye....Y was lauded for months before its publishing date. One must take that with a grain of salt. This isn’t Dickens or Montgomery . . . yet. But it is 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.
According to the ethos of this novel, then, the road to salvation is friendship and giving distressed people autonomy and learning to ride a bike — Vaughn instructs Shannon — and to express feelings. After listening to Lydia-Rose’s resentments regarding Shannon, the latter comments, “None of these things has ever been said. But once they are, I realize I’m not holding on to any pain from the past anymore.”

There are other tips for mental hygiene. Whether they are adequate to meet the needs of grown-up foundlings, the reader may decide. The novel remains engrossing, in any case. Somehow the author makes Shannon, who would be a pain in real life, not a pain for the reader, no doubt partly because evil is convincingly evoked in the novel and we, as spectators, naturally want the relatively innocent to be spared.

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.

In saying so, I don’t mean to imply that her prose is predictable, but rather that it has an inevitable or ineluctable quality, a cohesion twinned with the unexpected and amazing. This is a novel that demands willing suspension of disbelief at points. But the challenge to the reader is richly rewarded...This is a novel about connections and about relationships, causal and otherwise. Despite the picaresque nature of the plot, Shannon shakes off her status as a picaro by the novel’s end. It is not surprising that she is changed by the events of her life and their recounting. The real joy is that the reader may be as well.
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For my mom
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That perfect letter.
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Book description
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.
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A foster child who has been shuffled through the system after being abandoned at the YMCA as a baby wonders about her birth family and the reasons she was given up, questions that lead to the tragic story of her flawed and desperate mother.

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