Good news for readers who love coming-of-age stories and don’t mind their fiction soaked in drugs: Northern Lights...might be described as a cross between two of the greats in those categories: The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton, and Jesus’ Son, by Denis Johnson ... The writing is completely straightforward, more Hinton than Johnson. And like Hinton’s narrator, Strom’s character is soft and innocent when we meet him but is sucked into a gritty environment and transformed by it ... The series of disasters, chase scenes and shootouts at the ending of the book is a bit amateurish—I thought again of The Outsiders— but Shane Stephenson is a keeper.
Though set in the pre-Trump Midwest, the characters and dead-end towns Strom portrays could easily be found now, and he has a sure hand as he addresses such timely issues as identity, sexism, prejudice, drug abuse, conformity, and community from a queer perspective.
This is Strom’s debut novel, and what an incredibly good piece of writing it proves to be. He is an excellent writer and has produced a well-crafted novel. It’s not perfect, though, and readers may feel the first part less riveting than the second ... The novel concludes with a very satisfying ending ... The writing is very consistent and will draw readers into the story to the point that they care about the outcome of the main characters.
This literary title has just enough mystery to keep readers engaged, but there are slow points with either too much detail or scenes that don't support the overall plot ... There are several story lines as all of the characters bring their own backstories and not all of the plot points wrap up nicely. In fact, a thread of unease runs through the novel, from the flawed characters to the small graffiti-ridden town itself ... This slow debut may leave readers unsatisfied with the characters' choices and the ambiguous endings to some of their individual tales.
Strom paints a portrait of small-town life that is sure to make readers shiver. He sets up a narrative space in which a young boy is looking for his mother and quickly swerves, giving us death, alcohol, addiction, drugs, sex, bigotry, all wrapped up in the neat package that makes up Holm. Shane is heartbreaking, and readers will have a hard time parting with him after the book is over. A powerful depiction of the currency of intolerance and addiction in one small town.
Strom’s insightful navigation of family trauma, sexual identity, and small-town despair blends with his chilling depictions of drug abuse. This bleak, unsentimental novel will resonate with readers who like gritty coming-of-age tales.