Shuggie Bain

Grove. Feb. 2020. 448p. ISBN 9780802148049. pap. $27; ; ebk.ISBN 9780802148056. F
DEBUT This compulsively readable debut novel follows a boy growing up in 1980s and 1990s Glasgow, Scotland. It opens in 1992 with Shuggie Bain at age 15 living alone in a boarding house. Where is his family? The rest of the book provides answers. We first meet Shuggie at age six living in a tenement with fashionable mother Agnes, father Shug, half-siblings Leek and Catherine, and his grandparents. Shuggie likes dolls and is what would today be called gender-nonconforming. In exquisite detail, the book describes the devastating dysfunction in Shuggie’s family, centering on his mother’s alcoholism and his father’s infidelities, which are skillfully related from a child’s viewpoint. It also shows how daily trauma within the family wrecks a child’s psyche, a situation made doubly hard for Shuggie as he is not accepted by his peers. Agnes is eventually lured by Shuggie’s father into living in an isolated community outside the city, which exacerbates her alcoholism and leads to a downward spiral.
VERDICT As it beautifully and shockingly illustrates how Shuggie ends up alone, this novel offers a testament to the indomitable human spirit. Very highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 8/5/19.]
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