Book Review: Y by Marjorie Celona


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Y, the idea why of why we need children always circles to the same conclusion: Love, marriage, and children are a remedy for the broken.

Samantha goes into a home and is eventually adopted by Miranda who has a daughter Samantha’s age. Once Samantha stabilises and becomes part of a family, she loses her ability to articulately share her world. In fact, the further Samantha moves from the Y, the more blurred her perceptions.

Not every kid Vaselines an abusive father figure; carves stars in their legs; or starts life in a sweatshirt lying on the concrete step of a workout facility, but we’ve all experienced instances that exemplify the experience of confused love, painful release, and abandonment. Celona brings these experiences to us brilliantly in the first part of the book. But when the narration is handed to a teenager the subtle, painful observations of childhood become annoying overstated attention grabs that dissipate the complicated themes Celona so boldly tackled at the outset of Y.

“Take the vulnerable, sweet, and secret things in life very seriously,” he says when he sees me staring at him, “if you want to be true to yourself.”

Y’s negative view of love and family crystalises into a rather syrupy ending, which triggers Beyoncé’s “Survivor” in a flat, defeating, so-what kind of way. But this is Celona’s debut and for a debut — at least at the beginning — it captivates. Some of the eye rollers in Y — playing dress up as metaphor for finding one’s identity, a pregnancy characterised by a weighty belly and swollen feet — will hopefully disappear in Celona’s subsequent novels.

As soon as Celona settled with “the comfortable” or ordinary, the novel loses some of its luster. One hopes that Celona’s next novel will include characters that can match her lofty ideals. She’s at a fork in the road. A Y as it were.

Y was published in February 2013.