The novel is a vibrant portrait of the city, so tactile you almost shiver in the fog and vibrate to the Riot Grrrl beats ... Johnson's vivid portrait of '90s Portland is a warm welcome to any reader who wants to escape to a world where being gay is the norm ... Stray City adds to the conversation both by offering a very human story that goes beyond the coming out tale and in exploring the many ways people set restrictions around their sexuality.
More than a coming-out novel (though it’s that, too), this debut is an insightful and entertaining love letter to the LGBTQ community in Portland, Oregon ... Though the story dips into the grim reality of homophobic hate crimes (Brandon Teena and Matthew Shepard were both murdered in the ’90s), Stray City never loses its quirky point of view or Andy’s fresh perspective.
[H]ow clearly Johnson delineates the psychosexual dualities and prejudices of our culture, how effortlessly she instructs even as she entertains ... Stray City makes an expansive canvas, diverse and colorful, for a vibrant portrait of a woman coming into her own, in a city also coming into its own, brimming with music, art and beauty. Johnson’s debut is a thoughtful and joyous literary experience, one that celebrates its characters and liberally rewards its readers.
Andrea and Lucia’s journeys to self-knowing are depicted with humor and compassion, and while the novel’s two Portlands, separated by a decade, are written with loving precision, Stray City nevertheless feels not quite complete ... just as we are getting somewhere with this fear, one that today we might identify as biphobia, the novel switches gears, splitting its focus to include Lucia and her own story alongside Andrea’s. The question of the latter’s sexual identity is absorbed into Lucia’s search for the person who contributed one-half of her genetic material, a shift that feels unsatisfyingly abrupt ... Johnson falls into the very trap that she lays for her protagonist: Andrea is more driven by the fear of a complicated identity than by a desire to understand herself better, and as a whole, Stray City exhibits this same hesitation. Instead of diving into the existentialist rupture Andrea’s shifting identity presents, Johnson lets the trail go cold, leaving us with a resolution that, while no less lovely, is as cloudy as the Portland skyline.
Spanning several eras, up to Andy’s present day, this is a coming-out and coming-of-age story; a surprise-I’m-pregnant story; a will-they-or-won’t-they love story; and an ode to a time and place we think we’ve heard everything about—and it’s all utterly fresh. Portraying Portland and Andy’s chosen family with feeling and immense charm, Johnson paints Andy’s love—for her kid, her city, herself, and others—in all its thorny nuance and surprising glory. Recommend this to Jami Attenberg and Rainbow Rowell fans.
This is a richly satisfying read, with so many lines worthy of underlining ... both time-tested storytelling and 21st- century originality ... As a companion to the book, she includes an online playlist (tinyurl.com/straycitymixtape) time-stamped to the era. The musical underpinnings carry into the story. Johnson constructs the narrative like a song, with two main sections connected by a 'bridge' of voice mails, e-mails and letters never sent ... Stray City takes the reader on a journey, too, probing what makes families, whether biological or chosen. And it reminds us what it means to find home.
A chief pleasure of the novel is its shagginess, reflected in Andrea’s 'mostly hopeful,' unambitious, but inquisitive life. Johnson taps into a nostalgia for a reader’s youth and a simpler time, and the story keeps its vitality and humor throughout.
In Andy’s voice, Johnson depicts these people and this time with a fondness that borders on overfondness. Every detail is precious, and Johnson is sometimes given to overwriting ... Andy is happily settled with Beatriz, the love of her life, when 10-year-old Lucia gets curious about her father. This part of the narrative feels rushed. Neither Beatriz nor Lucia emerges as anything more than sketches, and all-grown-up Andy and Ryan get short shrift, too. Still, this is a welcome look at a happily unconventional family.