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 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.