Commentary
5:00 am
Mon January 14, 2013

Book Review: Y

In the preface of her novel Y, Marjorie Celona writes about that perfect letter. "The wishbone, fork in the road, empty wineglass. The question we ask over and over... Coupled with an L, let's make an adverb... a Greek letter (that) joined the Latin alphabet after the Romans conquered Greece in the first century--a double agent: consonant and vowel. No one used adverbs before then, and no one was happy."

Celona also tells us in the first sentence of the novel that it's the place where our narrator is abandoned as a newborn. Left in front of the YMCA by her mother, she is discovered by strangers and put into foster care. Each foster family calls her by a different name, but for most of the book, her name is Shannon.

Everybody in her small Canadian town seems to know her story of abandonment, but that doesn't stop the cruelty of others and mishandling by caregivers. Shannon struggles through adolescence and often punishes herself.

When a mother abandons an infant, we often do not learn why. But Celona attempts to answer the question by telling both stories. Chapters about Shannon's horrific life in foster care oscillate with her mother's life leading up to the day Shannon was born.

Finally living in a good foster home, and picking up stray friends along the way, Shannon feels grounded enough to begin searching for her parents. With the support of her makeshift family, she finds and meets her mother, father and grandfather and discovers why they left her behind.

Armed with the details of her past, Shannon realizes that knowing why doesn't change the story. And it doesn't always make you happy.