All of my reviews are always SPOILER FREE 🙂
I received an advanced copy in exchange for my honest, unbiased opinion. Thank you to the publisher, author, and Edelweiss, for allowing me to review.
Title: Stray City
Author: Chelsey Johnson
Genre: Adult Literary Fiction, LGBTQ
Publisher: Custom House
Date published: March 20, 2018
Page Count: 432
“A warm, funny, and whip-smart debut novel about rebellious youth, inconceivable motherhood, and the complications of belonging—to a city, a culture, and a family—when none of them can quite contain who you really are.
All of us were refugees of the nuclear family . . .
Twenty-four-year-old artist Andrea Morales escaped her Midwestern Catholic childhood—and the closet—to create a home and life for herself within the thriving but insular lesbian underground of Portland, Oregon. But one drunken night, reeling from a bad breakup and a friend’s betrayal, she recklessly crosses enemy lines and hooks up with a man. To her utter shock, Andrea soon discovers she’s pregnant—and despite the concerns of her astonished circle of gay friends, she decides to have the baby.
A decade later, when her precocious daughter Lucia starts asking questions about the father she’s never known, Andrea is forced to reconcile the past she hoped to leave behind with the life she’s worked so hard to build.
A thoroughly modern and original anti-romantic comedy, Stray City is an unabashedly entertaining literary debut about the families we’re born into and the families we choose, about finding yourself by breaking the rules, and making bad decisions for all the right reasons.”
Stray City is a nostalgic read, especially for those born in the 80s, teens who listened to music on walk-mans, made mixed tapes, and had Myspace profiles. There are parts of this story that are heart-wrenching, but also humour, and a big dollop of quirky-ness.
Gender, sexism, sexuality, family, acceptance, and identity are some big themes talked about, but not in a preachy way. I think we all struggle with identity, and many of us change how we act in front of different groups of people. Even if you’re not gay, I think you’ll find you can relate to the main character’s feelings.
The main character is Andrea, raised in Nebraska by an extremely religious mother, forced to hide the fact that she is a lesbian. Nebraska was a great choice for her birth place because it gave the opportunity to share Brandon Teena’s story, a trans murdered in Nebraska. Having the reader reminded of that heart-breaking story brings a heavier, darker, authentic feeling to Andrea’s stress of living in Nebraska and helps to explain why Portland was such a haven for her.
I admire how independent Andrea is. As a young person, on her own, with no family financial support, she is working three jobs, successfully paying her rent and doing okay. She has created a new family in Portland, a family that accepts her for who she is. During a night out with her friends she sees two of her ex-girlfriends flirting with each other. Devastated, she meets Ryan at the bar, and after a drunken kiss she finds herself in a secret relationship with him. Forced to hide her true self from her friends, like she did while living in Nebraska. Just when her life couldn’t feel more complicated, she gets pregnant.
“Smart and delightful . . . A chief pleasure of the novel is its shagginess, reflected in Andrea’s ‘mostly hopeful,’ unambitious, but inquisitive life. Johnson taps into a nostalgia for a reader’s youth and a simpler time, and the story keeps its vitality and humor throughout.” -Publishers Weekly
“Stray City has it all; as funny as it is moving, as joyful, as radically communal, as it is lonesome, the story covers the varied complications of place, home, sex, city—but mostly it’s about the necessary and unexpected revolutions of the self, and about how queerly we make our way through this world. Honestly, one of the most absorbing, finely-tuned books I’ve had the pleasure of falling down into. Chelsey Johnson is a wonder.” -Justin Torres, bestselling author of We the Animals
The plot is a little predictable and I really didn’t like Ryan leaving, it felt completely out of character to me. I would have loved to know more about his family and upbringing, perhaps that would have made his choices a bit more believable. That’s about the only fault I can find. Absolutely loved this book! I devoured Stray City in two days and cannot wait to read more of Chelsey Johnson’s writing.
“Chelsey Johnson received an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University. Her stories and essays have appeared in Ploughshares, One Story, Ninth Letter, The Rumpus, and on NPR’s Selected Shorts, among other outlets. She has received fellowships to the MacDowell Colony, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and Signal Fire Arts. She currently lives in Richmond, Virginia, and is an assistant professor at the College of William & Mary. This is her first novel.”