The dream of the 90s is alive in Portland.
And according to author Chelsey Johnson, even the 90s were more 90s in Portland. Stray City is the story of Andrea (Andy) Morales, a young woman abandoned by her biological family when she comes out who seeks out a new family and a place to belong in Portland. It’s all grunge and Lesbian Mafia and family dinners until, for reasons even Andy can’t articulate, she falls into bed with a man. Her regular transgressions remain a secret until she finds herself pregnant and thinking she might keep it.
The book jacket didn’t do a great job of breaking down how this book was going to go – I kept anticipating the pregnancy and kid, but they didn’t show up till almost two thirds of the way through. You do completely understand Andy and how lost she feels, even at the family dinners she throws with her closest friends. There were a few gut punches throughout the book that really hammered home when, and how recently, the 90s were and what happened. Andy hails from Nebraska and leaves for Portland just a few years before Brandon Teena is brutally assaulted and murdered in the same state. She’s finding herself in one of the few places welcoming to the LGBTQ community at a time when Matthew Shepard is left to freeze and bleed to death overnight in Wyoming. This gets only about a page though, but it’s a page that stuck with me.
Stray City is what I would describe as a “small” book. It’s about a handful of people and the lives they live, where events are life-changing but not world-changing. It’s a good small book. The characters were largely likeable, and the decisions they made came from real places.