Monday, February 18, 2019

NORTHERN LIGHTS :: Raymond Strom

A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is republished here with permission.

It was just by accident that Shane Stephenson stopped getting haircuts. His straight blond locks haven't even reached his shoulders the first time he's pushed into a wall and called names. Once he graduates high school in 1997, six months after his father's death, his disapproving uncle throws him out of the house. 

Heading to college in Minneapolis, Shane stops in the declining town of Holm to see the mother who abandoned him, only to find her gone. With his slim build and androgynous look, Shane finds plenty of foes in Holm, a "boys will be boys" place where folks celebrate their "heritage" with the Confederate flag, Timothy McVeigh is a hero, kids struggle to escape and the drug trade flourishes.

In Northern Lights, debut novelist Raymond Strom paints an aching portrait of a young man searching for a sense of self and belonging. While looking for clues in Holm, Shane finds a circle of friends and adversaries who push his boundaries and compel him to confront who he wants to be. When his closest companion comes up with a plan to take down the bigot tormenting Shane, the tragic fallout further shapes him and his future.

Strom creates a fantastic sense of place and how it works on his characters, particularly with respect to the gritty underbelly of substance abuse and financial straits. Shane is an unforgettable hero in his own story, both lost and possessing a vulnerable inner strength. Through him, Strom demonstrates how connections can be forged even in the unlikeliest of places.

STREET SENSE:  Fans of small-town drama (even the maddening kind) and nuanced character work should enjoy this impressive debut with a young protagonist you can't help but love and root for.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  I could see side-by-side how my long hair had made me look like a girl. It didn't help me understand why it had led some people to the edge of their wits, but I could see the cause for confusion in a way that I hadn't before. I had always been me, as far as I could tell, the change in my hair so subtle from day to day that I had grown into my own vision of myself over the years it took to get that long.

COVER NERD SAYS: I was an immediate sucker for this cover. The spare sepia image and font evoke mystery and gritty character work, which is exactly what I got and more. I admit I'm a minimalist, but this cover is proof you don't have to be fancy to be attention-grabbing.

No comments:

About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


  © Blogger templates Newspaper by 2008

Back to TOP