Y: A Novel, by Marjorie Celona

Second round reading gave this reader a new perspective.  
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Y: A Novel by Marjorie Celona
Hamish Hamilton, hardcover 348 pages
Truth be told, I wrote this book off as something that was slightly out of my intellectual reach. Even if the story sounded simple enough, I’m shamed to say that I didn’t get it.

I had a completely different opinion after I read it the first time. I was unable to get over myself. See,  I get so comfortable with my reading choices that when a book this jarring comes my way, I freeze. I don’t know what to do with myself. I’ve been so stubbornly set on how a character should act or how her story should’ve been written that when an author writes something incredibly real, I’m unable to react.

I’ve been trying to finish this book for more than a month now. And I’ve asked myself fruitlessly on numerous times why I’ve exerted the effort. The only reason I could come up with is that I’ve been intrigued by this book ever since I came across it last year. I must admit that while reading this novel, I wondered what makes someone’s work critically-acclaimed. And man, I didn’t get it. I realized at some point why I can’t quit my day job just yet. Because if I can’t differentiate an award winning novel from the prosaic, then there’s no point of entertaining my life-long dream of doing this for a living. 
I should mention that perhaps I am just not ready for this mature, quest-for-oneself’s-identity type of story. It had evoked empathy that would probably be more jostling to mothers like me. If there’s anyone who could tell us a tale of self discovery, it would be a baby abandoned at the doors of a Y. I was expecting some pretty harrowing tales of living out the horrors of the foster care system in Canada. But there wasn’t much of that. The most disheartening story was when she was but a toddler in the hands of an abusive foster dad. Other than that, you could say that she had better luck that most. Right now, in my city, a trial is in progress for the murder of a four year old girl in the hands of her mother and her boyfriend. She’s been in and out of the foster care system and had finally ended her short life full of  abuse when her mother and the boyfriend beat her to death. The system is under fire because they somehow missed the signs. The point is, there are a lot of horror stories out there and Shannon may have been lucky to a degree.

Shannon was pretty restless and living in all four seasons of her discontent. She struggled to find herself in a world where nothing seemed right; where she couldn’t find her rightful place. It’s difficult to do that if you don’t know where you came from. That, in its essence, is Shannon’s quest: to know the reason why a mother would give up a child without knowing whether or not she’d end up with a good life. She didn’t want a life with her biological mother, she just wanted to know.

There were stories of teenage angst and rebellion of the lighter kind. There were encounters with drug addicts, alcoholics and homeless hobos. Even if the foster family who took her in offered her some sort of stability, she couldn’t quite settle. So she goes and finds her past starting with the man who found her at the Y.

And then there’s the story of her mother (Yula), who incidentally was a child herself.  Her story was heartbreaking, her first child’s even more so. She loved the way she knew how – pure and all encompassing and to a fault. Victim of circumstance and the environment around her, leaving Shannon’s fate in the mercy of strangers was her way giving her second child a fighting chance. In the end, and whatever her state of mind was at the time, I really couldn’t fault or admonished her for committing all her unforgivable sins. In the end, it was her love that made her do what she needed to do.

My rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

It’s a story of a girl
left on the steps of a Y.
Growing up listlessly
wondering hopelessly why. 

An infant aware
soon as she opened her eyes.
A violent birth
and the impending demise.

Days turned to years
in wonder and impatience.
Nothing could ground her,
and thought that
love’s an indulgence.

She’s wary of anyone
who might show her compassion.
Always defensive,
second guessing their intentions.

To those who love her
fully and honestly.
She’s out of reach
all closed up tightly.

A slip of a girl
with one blinded eye.
Stronger than she looks
for a four foot nothing high.

She draws her strength
in knowing that she survived,
the violent birth
and in love she had thrived.

  • Beautiful review and poem Joy. Now I want to give Y a try.

  • I think I'll be struggling with this one too, Joy! But I'm glad you managed to enjoy it and write one of your wonderful poems for it as well!