In this debut novel, a queer teenager named Shane Stephenson goes looking for his estranged mother in rural Minnesota in the late 1990s where he navigates homophobia and bigotry as well as falls in with a crowd of troubled friends.
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.