Y: A Novel

By Marjorie Celona
Publisher:Free Press, (1/8/2013)

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“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.

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"Y: A Novel"
By Marjorie Celona

Average Rating:

This book has not been rated

The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.
1. Reread “Y,” the opening lines of the novel. Does this description of the letter “Y” change your understanding of the novel or the title in any way? Is there a particular line that stands out to you?

2. Discuss the structure of Y. How do the two storylines—Shannon’s adolescence and Yula’s life leading up to the final days of her pregnancy—illuminate each other? How does the tension build in Yula’s story, as it approaches the moment of Shannon’s birth and abandonment?

3. Shannon describes herself as “a cross between Shirley Temple and a pug” (pg. 58) and a “bum-eyed Smurf.” (pg. 92) How do you envision Shannon? Why do you think the author chose to focus on Shannon’s physical appearance? Do you think Shannon has an accurate perception of how she looks? Why or why not?

3. Consider Vaughn’s power of foresight. How much of the future can he predict, and to what extent can he influence what happens? Why does he decide not to intervene when he witnesses Shannon’s abandonment at the YMCA? Do you think he made the right choice?

4. Discuss Shannon’s habit of snooping. Why do you think she is so curious about other people’s secrets? What does Shannon learn about Miranda, Lydia-Rose, and Vaughn from rifling through their private possessions?

5. There are two versions of the day Julian abducted young Shannon in his car—Shannon remembers Miranda rescuing her, while Miranda assures her that it was Shannon’s teacher who found her, hours later. Does this discrepancy make you question Shannon’s reliability as a narrator? How does Shannon seek to resolve her unfinished business with Julian?

6. Compare the three main settings of the novel: Shannon’s hometown of Victoria; the wilderness of Mount Finlayson, where Yula lives with Harrison, Quinn, and Eugene; and the city of Vancouver that Shannon visits on her sixteenth birthday. What is beautiful about each of these settings? What is ugly, grim, or ominous about each location?

7. Yula “felt the same arrogance from their neighbors on Mount Finlayson, as if living out of the city, in nature, made you different somehow.” (pg. 76) Discuss how the residents of Mount Finlayson consider themselves “different.” How does their arrogance put them in danger? What kind of relationship does Yula have with nature?

8. Y is narrated entirely through Shannon’s voice, even in circumstances when it is impossible for her to be present or recall certain events. For instance on pg. 212, Shannon narrates her own birth: “I am an easy birth, as was Eugene. My mother pants, like Jo taught her to do, and Luella tries to get her to relax.” What did you think of this unique use of narrative perspective? How did it affect your reading experience?

9. Shannon realizes on her overnight trip to Vancouver, “I was as much a freak as anyone else.” (pg. 113) Review the characters Shannon encounters on her trip. Why do you think Shannon is drawn to dysfunction? How does the realization of her difference affect her?

10. Midway through the novel, Shannon wonders, “But how do you become a part of someone else’s family? You don’t, and you never do.” (pg. 126) Do you think Shannon feels the same way by the end of the novel? Why or why not? Did your own definition of family change as you progressed through the novel?

11. Vaughn tells Shannon that her mother’s decision to abandon her “was an act of generosity. An act of love.” (pg. 167) Do you agree? What other emotions and circumstances contributed to Yula’s decision that August morning?

12. In his letter to Shannon, Harrison writes about his “poison blood,” the wildness she might have inherited from him. (pg. 219) Consider how Shannon resembles her father. How does this wildness help or hinder Shannon throughout her journey?

13. Deborah Willis refers to Shannon’s character as “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.” Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of Shannon’s openness. How does her connection to all types of people help her, and when does it get her in trouble? How does Shannon’s openness influence the narrative as a whole?

14. Discuss the conclusion of Y. Were you surprised by this ending? Why or why not? Did you expect more or less from Shannon and Yula’s reunion?

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