STRAY CITY by Chelsey Johnson


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A debut novel about the families we’re given and the families we create.

Andrea Morales is reeling from multiple romantic disappointments when she does the unthinkable: she has sex with a man. What should have been a one-time hook-up turns into a regular thing because it feels good to be wanted, and Ryan wants her. Of course, Andy has to keep this act of heresy a secret from the “lesbian Mafia,” but that becomes impossible when she gets pregnant and decides to have a baby. The first section of this novel is set in Portland, Oregon, in 1998 and '99. This is the place Andy lands when she leaves small-town Nebraska and her parents behind. Portland is no Seattle, but there are plenty of hipster signifiers. Andy works in a letterpress studio. Her friends include a stripper and an apprentice tattoo artist. Just about everybody’s in a band. In Andy’s voice, Johnson depicts these people and this time with a fondness that borders on overfondness. Every detail is precious, and Johnson is sometimes given to overwriting. The amount of time that passes between Andy and Ryan’s first night together and their eventual split is just a few months, but it takes up more than half the book. There’s a short middle section devoted to a brief period in which Andy and Ryan are negotiating their future. This is told mostly in phone messages and unsent letters, and the device works to convey disconnect and miscommunication. A decade has passed by the time we reach the third section, and this is where one might wish that the first part of the novel had been tightened up to allow more development here. Andy is happily settled with Beatriz, the love of her life, when 10-year-old Lucia gets curious about her father. This part of the narrative feels rushed. Neither Beatriz nor Lucia emerges as anything more than sketches, and all-grown-up Andy and Ryan get short shrift, too. Still, this is a welcome look at a happily unconventional family.

Quirky and sweet.

Pub Date: March 17th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-06-266668-0
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Custom House/Morrow
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2018


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