I first heard about Stray City on All The Books podcast, in an episode where they discussed books they were excited about in 2018. I have to tell you, Liberty Hardy knows how to create hype for a book! I immediately put it on my TBR.
Stray City takes place in the late 90’s and follows Andrea Morales, a young gay woman from Nebraska, who moves to Portland for college. Here she finds her niche in the progressive community that embraces her lifestyle. When Andy’s conservative Catholic parents discover her sexuality, they stop paying for her college. Andy rebels and goes back to Portland, and at 19 starts to fend for herself. What she discovers is a new family, one that she has chosen, who support and love and celebrate each other. They call themselves “The Lesbian Mafia”.
After a night of loneliness and alcohol, Andy finds herself making out with a guy. At first she is just experimenting, keeping the affair a secret and using him in her desperation for affection. In the midst of her identity crisis, Andrea finds herself pregnant…a situation that shocks and appalls her friends and the Lesbian Mafia. To everyone’s surprise, she decides to keep the baby. Eventually her friends accept her decision and gather round to offer their support and love. 10 years later, when her daughter Lucia starts to become more curious and investigating on her own, Andrea has to decide how much, if anything, to tell her daughter about her biological father.
“Of course I’ll be fine. I am fine. Fine was the loneliest place a person could be.”
I found this book to be a new reading experience for me. It explored lesbian relationships with a real voice and an authentic perspective. I haven’t read a lot of LGBTQ novels and this book expanded my horizons. The characters were very focused on straight white male privilege, their irritation and disgust extremely evident. Chelsey Johnson has done an excellent job at providing a diverse cast of characters and setting the tone for Portland in 1999. It was a great representation of an alternate view on marriage and the social norms for what a “family” represents. The themes of discovering yourself, insecurity, needing to belong and finally, finding your “people” and holding them close were relateable and genuine.
Overall, I enjoyed this read. There was a very solid foundation laid out, great character development and a detailed story-line during parts 1 and 2. As for the last 1/3 of the book, I felt that it was rushed through. I would have liked a bit more of the story and closure at the conclusion, it seemed it was cut off too soon-like there were a couple of chapters missing from the book. Also, the writing switched to a third person narrative near the end of the book and that kind of threw me? Not sure if there was a point to that but it was a jarring change. I found the dialogue to be hilarious and realistic, it’s hard to believe this is a debut novel!
Buy your copy of Stray City by Chelsey Johnson here!
I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of this book from the lovely people at Custom House in exchange for my honest review. It is a privilege to provide my thoughts and opinions to other readers!