Photo courtesy of Bettina Strauss

“Y” is what you might call a central conceit in Marjorie Celona’s stunning debut novel of the same name.

The book opens at the door of a YMCA in Canada, where a young woman has just abandoned her hours-old daughter. But it is also the unanswered question--“Why?”--that this daughter, Shannon, asks again and again as she becomes a teenager. “Why did she leave me?” “Why wasn’t I enough?” Finally, it comes to represent a fork in the road as Shannon finds herself torn between her adoptive family and the past she aches to know.

Interweaving Shannon’s story with that of her birth mother, Celona creates a beautifully tangled web that is equal parts mystery (seriously, this one’s a page-turner), poetry and deep rumination on the meaning of family.

As the fiery, lazy-eyed and blonde-Afroed Shannon shuffles through the doors of foster homes and social workers, Y exhibits remarkable restraint; in less deft hands this story could feel hackneyed, but thanks to Celona’s humor and specificity, it never does.

This calls to mind one final “Y”--the category of YA fiction, which often explores the struggles of down-on-their-luck teenagers. Celona’s tale treads similar waters, but with a subtlety of voice that is decidedly adult.

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