Stray City

Stray City

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-four-year-old artist Andrea Morales escaped her Midwestern Catholic childhood—and the closet—to crea...

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Title:Stray City
Author:Chelsey Johnson
Rating:
Edition Language:English

Stray City Reviews

  • Will Byrnes

    Andrea Morales came to Portland, Oregon, to attend Reed College. Unlike the environment in her Nebraska home town, Portland offered a world in which it was entirely ok to be gay and out. In fact, she soon found herself part of a thriving lesbian sub-culture. But when Mom and Dad, heavily Catholic, learned that she had a girlfriend, parental funding for Reed was axed, and A

    Andrea Morales came to Portland, Oregon, to attend Reed College. Unlike the environment in her Nebraska home town, Portland offered a world in which it was entirely ok to be gay and out. In fact, she soon found herself part of a thriving lesbian sub-culture. But when Mom and Dad, heavily Catholic, learned that she had a girlfriend, parental funding for Reed was axed, and Andrea was urged to return home and pray away the gay. Didn’t happen. Check, please.

    - image taken from her site

    Maybe everything’s not exactly coming up roses for Andrea in Portland, but, now twenty four, she has made a life for herself there. Yeah, she just broke up with her girlfriend.

    Yeah, she has work, at three part time jobs. But, she is a member in good-standing of the local Lesbian Mafia, having managed to replace the family (well, some of them) who rejected her, seeing her as a sinful aberration, with a community that embraces and celebrates her for who she truly is. Up to a point, anyway.

    One of the people with whom she is most comfortable is Ryan, the drummer for a local band, Cold Shoulder. They hang out, play Scrabble. He sends her charming retro postcards from wherever, when he is on tour with the band. They can talk about a wide range of subjects. There is real affection between them. There has even been a…gasp…kiss. He is clearly interested in continuing down that path, while she is reluctant. But she misses him when he is away. He is charming and interested and the no-strings element is appealing, as she is not interested in having a

    relationship with a man. Friendship leads to something more, making for confusion and social awkwardness. She feels it necessary to keep their relationship from her gay friends. But, as will happen, even with protection, Andrea becomes pregnant, and her secret is out. Oopsy.

    What to do? Keep it or head to Planned Parenthood for a D&C. How will her family, natural and constructed, react to the news? How will the prospective father cope? Andrea has to deal not only with the biological and financial details of her pregnancy, but must contend with hostile forces in her new community, women who see any congress with a man as a betrayal.

    is a coming of age novel. While Andrea learned who she was, sexually, as a kid, in flashback, and arrived in Portland clear on her orientation, we see her grow from a young person into an adult, from a newbie into a vet. The form begins with a significant personal loss,

    (yep) requires a quest for answers, (uh huh) gaining experience in the world, (for sure) presentation and resolution of a conflict between the main character and the world, or in this case two worlds, (ya think?) her parental and chosen environments, growing in world and self-knowledge, (she does) overcoming challenges, (most def) and resolving into acceptance into that world (whichever world), or managing at least a modus vivendi. (Whew!) Helping others along in their struggles can also be a part, and Andrea does that as well

    One thing that I loved about this book was the combination of warmth and effervescence it exudes. Andrea is a lovable everywoman, relatable even to a straight male codger like me. While she is no blushing rose, she has an innocence about her that is very appealing. Trying to find love, trying to fit in, have friends, and be a part of a community.

    Another is the portrait that is painted of the lesbian scene in Portland at the time of the novel, 1999. Again (see straight male codger ref above), this is an environment with which I am totally unfamiliar. It is always fun to learn about new things, and

    offers a vivid image of a culture in a time and place. It not only takes on the sort of know-nothing homophobia one might expect in less sophisticated places and cultures, but makes it a point to note that even among the out community there are plenty who would don the robes of Torquemada to enforce their own exclusive set of rules.

    Johnson includes in her book chapters of occasional lists. For example

    ,

    ,

    , and others. I thought these a mixed lot, sometimes fun, but inconsistent. Not that it needed breaking up, but a series of back and forths between two characters in brief paper notes, messages on answering machines, postcards, e-mails and unsent letters, does alter the rhythm of the story, in an ok way, while providing important elements of character development.

    The author has incorporated elements of her personal life into

    . A remote residence for one character surely reflects a bit of Park Rapids, Minnesota, where she was raised. Time some young characters spend in Rock Camp is certainly based on Johnson’s time as a volunteer at the

    , as is her familiarity with rock hardware. (Would

    know the difference between a Telecaster and say, a Strat, or a Les Paul?) And including two ten-year-olds who compose and perform must have come from there as well. Andrea’s fondness for karaoke is well-informed by Johnson’s affection for the form. I expect that Edith Head, another stray, of the feline variety, is a make-a-wish version of Johnson’s late kitty, Seven.

    There is a persistent feeling of hopefulness, of good cheer that permeates the book. Chelsey Johnson clearly loves her characters, demonstrated maybe most clearly when she is noting their inner doubts and conflicts. This is not a laugh-out-loud book, but there is humor aplenty that will make you smile. We hang with Andrea as she adapts to her new life in Portland, struggle with her through her to-keep-or-not-to-keep decision, and root for her in another new life when she becomes a mother. This book is a joyous celebration of life lived to its fullest, with its doubts, pitfalls, discoveries, setbacks, joys, and challenges. It will leave you more knowledgeable about a culture that, odds are, is unfamiliar. It will give you a beautifully drawn character that you can easily care about, facing problems that are real to most of us, in one form or another, and, finally, it will leave you smiling.

    is a fabulous first from a talented young writer. It looks like Chelsey Johnson has found a home as a novelist.

    Review posted – November 3, 2017

    Publication date – March 20, 2018

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    Links to the author’s

    ,

    and

    pages

  • Bam

    Andrea Morales was born and raised in rural Nebraska, part of a devout Catholic family. When she comes to the realization as a young teen that she is lesbian, she tries to be the best daughter she can be--never rebellious, good grades in school, attending mass regularly--in the hopes of storing up brownie points for the eventual day when she 'comes out' to her family.

    Then in the late 1990s, 'Andy' goes off to college in Portland, Oregon and there, amongst a strong lesbian community, she can fin

    Andrea Morales was born and raised in rural Nebraska, part of a devout Catholic family. When she comes to the realization as a young teen that she is lesbian, she tries to be the best daughter she can be--never rebellious, good grades in school, attending mass regularly--in the hopes of storing up brownie points for the eventual day when she 'comes out' to her family.

    Then in the late 1990s, 'Andy' goes off to college in Portland, Oregon and there, amongst a strong lesbian community, she can finally be free to be her true self, experimenting with love and having her heart broken a couple times along the way. Andy finds a new family here with these women but finds they also have rules and even what they call 'the Lesbian Mafia.'

    So when Ryan Coates, a musician with the band Cold Shoulder, strikes up a friendship with her and that leads to other 'benefits,' Andy becomes confused. She knows she's a lesbian but why this attraction to a guy? Is it just because she's been feeling unattractive and unloved lately and his pursuit is a huge boost to her ego? And then she finds out she's pregnant--god, how will she tell her friends?!

    This is terrific writing, delving deeply into relationships, friendship, family and love with great heart and humor. I could not put it down! Hard to believe this is Chelsey Johnson's debut--the voice is so authentic, the characters so real, just spot on.

    I learned a lot from this book--I knew nothing about this community and very little about lesbian relationships--so this was quite new territory for me. I enjoy books that expand my horizons, increasing my understanding of people and love in all its myriad varieties.

    Many thanks to Katherine Turro at HarperCollins/WilliamMorrow for providing me with a paperback advanced reader's edition of this insightful new book. Kudos! You have found a brilliant new author here.

  • Elyse

    “MY PEOPLE”

    “ Portland in the Nineties was a lot like me: Broke, struggling with employment, mostly white, mostly hopeful even though there was no real change in sight. For all the drive-through espresso stands and downtown restoration, the new paint on aged bungalows and vintage glasses on young women, it was still an old industrial river town in a remote corner of the country. Hard to get to. Hard to leave”.

    Andrea Morales, age 17, was from rural western Nebraska......

    “where adulthood came har

    “MY PEOPLE”

    “ Portland in the Nineties was a lot like me: Broke, struggling with employment, mostly white, mostly hopeful even though there was no real change in sight. For all the drive-through espresso stands and downtown restoration, the new paint on aged bungalows and vintage glasses on young women, it was still an old industrial river town in a remote corner of the country. Hard to get to. Hard to leave”.

    Andrea Morales, age 17, was from rural western Nebraska......

    “where adulthood came hard and fast and narrow, and queers kept quiet or met violence”.

    Andrea’s father was Mexican-American - born Catholic but casually faithful. Her mother, Caucasian-American was born a Lutheran who converted to Catholicism after marriage and attended mass every day.

    Andrea’s plan was to go off to college - at Reed - in Portland.... get her college undergrad degree, find respectable work, and go on with her underground quiet life. She would come home for family gatherings at Christmas time. She would wear a sweet yellow skirt or sweater her mother gave her ‘which was so her’ - keep family peace - attend church - stay in the closet - then return to Portland to continue participating in LGBT student groups.

    Andrea’s plan worked well enough during her Freshman Year of college. At school she was another young person seeking to find all the things you’d expect to find—

    music, work, drugs, adulthood, refuge from adulthood, but mostly, seeking each other.

    “Here I was no longer The Only but one of an ever-gathering crowd- Young forever, queer forever, friends forever, or so we all thought then. My people”.

    Andrea’s plan broke down during her sophomore year of college. During Christmas break home with her family in Nebraska— it became harder for Andrea to hold her tongue - and harder for her parents not to hold theirs.

    Mom didn’t like her short hair or the hole in her nose ( Andrea didn’t think she would notice —she removed the ring), they didn’t like that she wouldn’t eat ‘meat’....( food grandma prepared), grades were slipping, they didn’t know her friends, and the parents didn’t like what ‘the place’ was doing to their beautiful daughter —-it was like they didn’t even know who she was anymore.

    Her mother wanted to know who Vivian was - The girl she heard her daughter talking to over the phone.

    Andrea told her parents the truth: she was in love, “ after all, it was not a sin to ‘be’ homosexual; it was a sin to ‘act’ on it. And I—-“

    Well, being raised a Catholic with moral strong role models didn’t sit right with her parents. Andrea could come home and attend a state school, but they would no longer pay that institution, at Reed College in Portland another cent.

    Andrea makes her choice. She packs her bags and heads back to Portland to find a job, and a place to live, returning to her people. Broke - no school - a crappy low paying job- and a girlfriend who was into a nonmonogamy. The only person her former girlfriend didn’t want to have sex with was her: so basically a hurtful crappy ex-relationship too.

    But .....life continued on in Portland.....

    Queer Nights, sticky dark bars, cafes that were really dinners. Roots ran shallow. The queer Community clung fiercely to each other, yet they’d cheat or fall out and entire friend networks would break into pieces

    We meet Ryan Coates, a close guy friend with Andrea. They are competitive scrabble buddies. And then they are more - Andrea was having a secret affair with Ryan. They would sneak off into different neighborhoods. For Andrea, the secret, not the sex, ....the nervous energy, the adrenaline, was a rush that radiated her continued heat.

    “If you think It’s no big deal for a lesbian to fool around with a guy on the sly, you’re right, sort of, but you are also not living in Portland, Oregon, at the end of the 20th century as a card-carrying member of the Lesbian Mafia. It was as good as treason”.

    “Double life was my specialty, honed during my teen years - my formative mode. I picked it right back up”.

    If this book wasn’t already a page turner from page 1 —IT WAS—your reading speed triples with curiosity once Andrea is pregnant with Ryan’s baby....I MEAN TRIPLES!!!

    I kept thinking - I know this story - I know a couple where this happened to -

    I remember these days of STAY CITY.....( from an arms distant - but not all ‘that’ far either).

    The characters were wonderful- reinventing themselves the moment they leave home —- WOW.....I remember these days when my first born daughter went to college - as a Freshman in 1999.

    Many of those cute wholesome looking girls in her Freshman class - right out of High School ..... were RUNNING to PLANNED PARENTHOOD- TATTOOED SHOPS- cutting off their hair - getting piercings - wearing army clothing -

    She came home telling ‘me’..... that she needed to be a closet straight girl. Her Lesbian friends gave her the evil eye when she ‘liked’ wearing her girlie skirts - and MEN. They were funny days.

    This book is funny - warm - real - ENJOYABLE!

    FAVORITE QUOTE ABOUT THIS BOOK is: ( by Michelle Tea, award winning author of “Valencia”):

    “A love letter to Portland in the 90’s, “Stay City”, is a gorgeous, funny, sharply spot-on tale of growing up and making family again and again and again”.

    Exquisitely beautiful!!! This book could become a classic!!!

    Thank you ( again and again and again)....Will Bynes and Harper Collins Publishing.

  • Thomas

    A heartwarming and witty book about a lesbian who has sex with a man, gets pregnant, and decides to keep the baby. Though

    pays homage to a distinct setting and community - the lesbian underground scene of 90's Portland - its themes of identity, searching for belonging, and art are universal. The novel contains challenging scenes such as facing rejection from a homophobic biological family, followed by exclusion from a queer family of choice, as well as humorous and insightful one-line

    A heartwarming and witty book about a lesbian who has sex with a man, gets pregnant, and decides to keep the baby. Though

    pays homage to a distinct setting and community - the lesbian underground scene of 90's Portland - its themes of identity, searching for belonging, and art are universal. The novel contains challenging scenes such as facing rejection from a homophobic biological family, followed by exclusion from a queer family of choice, as well as humorous and insightful one-liners about gender, heteronormative family structures, and coming of age. I am still mulling over how Andrea, our protagonist, operates both within and outside of traditional systems of connection, such as by still having a romantic partner but eschewing the institution of marriage.

    A much-needed book in terms of representing queer and alternative characters and relationships, I would recommend

    to anyone searching for a novel that represents diversity in a meaningful way, with a rich and intelligent voice. For the sake of transparency, I was lucky enough to get an advanced reader's copy from the publisher for review.

  • karen

    this is a sweet, breezy reversal of the “gay for you” trope, in which andrea morales, an established lesbian who has sacrificed her college education and severed all contact with her homophobic parents in order to live freely and openly, hooks up with a dude, gets pregnant, and decides, like madonna, she’s keeping her baby (but not the dude), no matt

    this is a sweet, breezy reversal of the “gay for you” trope, in which andrea morales, an established lesbian who has sacrificed her college education and severed all contact with her homophobic parents in order to live freely and openly, hooks up with a dude, gets pregnant, and decides, like madonna, she’s keeping her baby (but not the dude), no matter what papa (in this case, the lesbian mafia) thinks of her life choices.

    it’s set in portland in the 90’s, and even though andrea is twenty-four at the start, this is still a coming-of-age novel, because that whole DIY punk zine noise bike-riding vegetarian anti-establishment art collective

    is one that supports the extension of adolescence, and andrea’s experience with ryan is really just one of those “testing the sexual waters” experiments when anything is possible and nothing has consequences. except, of course, this time.

    it’s a sweet book, yes, but it’s also smart, and it doesn’t fall into easy oppositions or hesitate to point out the hypocrisy of a community priding itself on inclusion and permissiveness while despising

    and ani difranco and anne heche and others who have crossed over into unsuitable bedfellow territory, when andrea’s chosen family is just as bewildered and scornful of her and ryan as her biological family was of her and women and her hard-won independence and sense of self is uprooted all over again.

    the protectiveness makes sense - this begins in 1998, with the brandon teena tragedy in the community’s rearview (and in andrea’s home state of nebraska), and the murder of matthew shepard also occurs during the course of this story, so there’s a lot of high-profile hate to process, and many of the characters found acceptance in this new queer "family" after being rejected by their parents, and by extension, the straight community, and any seeming “relapse” by a member is unsettling and dangerous. inclusiveness has its boundaries, and straight dudes, no matter how feminist and undouchey, are well beyond its borders.

    i have no personal connection to portland in the 90’s, but i trust the book’s blurbs that it captures the time and place exceptionally well. it definitely does resonate with that time in life, all rootlessness and possibility and revelations and figuring out the details and desires of the self and of relationships while everything is soft and blurry with evolving and becoming:

    really, a very strong and surprising debut and i look forward to whatever she does next.

    *******************************************

    NOW AVAILABLE!

    i just finished this and was hoping to have a review posted before its release date, but maybe you can beat me to it! go - show me how it's done! review like the wind!

  • Theresa

    Thank you, William Morrow for sending me, "Stray City" by Chelsey Johnson, in exchange for an honest review.

    I really liked the emotional integrity of this novel. I enjoyed Andrea and Ryan's unconventional "relationship". The writing, plot, and the overall tone was witty, refreshing, smart, and an absolute pleasure to read. The only thing that really irked me was that the narrative switches to third person 300 pages in. I felt frustrated and a little detached from the story after that occurred. I

    Thank you, William Morrow for sending me, "Stray City" by Chelsey Johnson, in exchange for an honest review.

    I really liked the emotional integrity of this novel. I enjoyed Andrea and Ryan's unconventional "relationship". The writing, plot, and the overall tone was witty, refreshing, smart, and an absolute pleasure to read. The only thing that really irked me was that the narrative switches to third person 300 pages in. I felt frustrated and a little detached from the story after that occurred. I wished the whole novel would've stayed in first person narrative.

    It's funny, even though Andrea is the main protagonist, I felt oddly connected to Ryan, even though he makes a life-changing mistake halfway through the novel. I guess I felt empathy for him. He's a well written male character (which is hard to find in contemporary fiction). I could really feel his resentment over the way Andrea jerks him around (she keeps their relationship a secret because she's a lesbian).

    I loved the whole late '90s nostalgia feel of "Stray City". It was such a simpler time before smartphones and social media consumed our lives. Chelsey Johnson is a damn good storyteller. A zippy but edgy debut. This book is scheduled to be released March 20, 2018. Enjoy!

  • Selena

    I received a free copy of Stray City by Chelsey Johnson from Goodreads for my review.

    A very well-told nicely written debut novel. The main character, Andrea, who is a lesbian, has a fling with a heterosexual guy named Ryan. Ryan is a rocker. Andrea gets pregnant and decides to keep the baby. The book is entertaining, funny, and very emotional. It will tug on your heart-strings for a long time.

  • Esil

    4 high stars

    Stray Friends was a lovely surprise. I had no expectations when I started this book, knowing nothing about the story or the author.

    The first part of the story takes place in the late 1990s, focusing on Andrea in her early twenties in Portland, Oregon. Andrea (or Andie as she is known by her friends) is gay, and living an insulated life within her tight knit community of friends. At a crisis point in her life, Andie “strays” toward a relationship with a man, which puts her at odds wi

    4 high stars

    Stray Friends was a lovely surprise. I had no expectations when I started this book, knowing nothing about the story or the author.

    The first part of the story takes place in the late 1990s, focusing on Andrea in her early twenties in Portland, Oregon. Andrea (or Andie as she is known by her friends) is gay, and living an insulated life within her tight knit community of friends. At a crisis point in her life, Andie “strays” toward a relationship with a man, which puts her at odds with herself and her community. The second part of the story flashes forward ten years in Andrea’s life. There is so much to say about what happens to Andrea, but I want to avoid spoilers. There is a key and lovely turn to the story that is best experienced as you read it. And I loved the ending.

    This is really a story about the extreme emotions, idealism and politics of youth, as compared with the tempered emotions and realism of adulthood. I found myself being impatient with Andie and her friends in the first part, but when I got to the second part I realized that this was the book’s narrative arc. The parts fit perfectly together.

    The writing is very straightforward, but the emotions are potent and genuine. I would love to read this author’s next book.

    Thank you to the publisher for giving me access to an advance copy.

  • Liz

    “Portland in the Nineties was a lot like me - broke, struggling with employment, mostly white, mostly hopeful even though there was no real change in sight .” This initial sentence of Stray City grabbed me. By the end of the first page I had already highlighted three quotes. So I was all prepared to just love this novel. And I wish I could say the book kept up that level of intensity, but it didn’t. It dragged in places. It takes forever to get the story moving. The book could have used a much s

    “Portland in the Nineties was a lot like me - broke, struggling with employment, mostly white, mostly hopeful even though there was no real change in sight .” This initial sentence of Stray City grabbed me. By the end of the first page I had already highlighted three quotes. So I was all prepared to just love this novel. And I wish I could say the book kept up that level of intensity, but it didn’t. It dragged in places. It takes forever to get the story moving. The book could have used a much stricter editing job. Johnson does paint the place and the people so that you feel you are there. And what she really gets right is how each group has its rules and you break those rules at your own cost. “In some ways it was harder to come out as gay with one exception than as gay.”

    I enjoyed the use of phone calls, postcards, emails and never sent letters to explain Ryan.

    The second half of the book flashes forward ten years and moves along better. It explores the different concepts of family with loving understanding.

    I received a free copy of this book from Goodreads in exchange for an honest review.

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