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Labels abound in Stray City: gay, straight, feminine, masculine, daughter, parent. But it is the deeply recognizable characters who use those labels as both shields and solace that ground Chelsey Johnson’s captivating debut. Centered on Andrea Morales––a twenty-something who grows estranged from her strict Catholic family after coming out, only to later jeopardize her standing in the Portland lesbian scene after sleeping with a man and deciding to have his baby––Stray City interrogates the very meaning of sexual orientation, of family, of community. Johnson reminds us how every label, every grasp toward identity, carries with it the possibility of individuality, but also groupthink; of liberation, but also restriction. Thankfully, though, there seem to be no restrictions to Johnson’s talent: Stray City’s every page offers sly humor, spot-on detail, unceasing empathy. Reading this novel is not unlike the experience Andrea describes of playing a new album while lying on the floor: “You don’t just hear the music, you feel it. Your whole body listens.”— From Sam
“A coming-of-age story about Andrea, a Midwestern, Catholic, artistic lesbian who escapes her family to try and find herself. After moving to Portland, Oregon, in the '90s, Andrea gets involved in printmaking and music, meets a circle of people she depends upon, experiences a breakup, and finds a new friend. I could not put this novel down once I started it. When I was down to the last 10 pages, I read as slowly as I could, savoring every last word about the people I had come to know in Stray City. Such a good story!”
— Nona Camuel, CoffeeTree Books, Morehead, KY
“A thoughtful and joyous literary experience that celebrates its characters and liberally rewards its readers.” —New York Times Book Review, Editors' Choice
"I tore through this novel like an orphaned reader seeking a home in its ragtag yet shimmering world." — Carrie Brownstein
“Our ’90s nostalgia is hella high these days, and this tender, funny story made our aging hipster hearts sing.” — Marie Claire
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-three-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.
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 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. Born and raised in Northern Minnesota, she currently lives in Richmond, Virginia, and teaches at the College of William & Mary. This is her first novel.