Flatiron Books: The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

Northern Lights

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, 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. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review