cover image Shae


Mesha Maren. Algonquin, $28 (224p) ISBN 978-1-64375-566-3

A West Virginia girl descends into opioid addiction after giving birth and breaking up with her trans girlfriend in Maren’s emotionally taut if thematically uneven latest (after Perpetual West). Shae, an introverted 16-year-old, is captivated by the new-to-town Cam, a misfit with piercings and long blond hair who is defiant even while being bullied by classmates. The pair bond over their love of punk rock, and Cam moves in with Shae and her mother. The teens start having sex, and Shae gets pregnant. Shortly before their daughter, Eva, is born, Cam, now the lead singer of a band, appears onstage in Shae’s clothes and comes out as trans. Shae, hearing the news for the first time, is fearful of what Cam’s transition will mean for their relationship. Then, after a botched C-section, her doctor prescribes OxyContin for the pain. Unable to finish school and working as a stripper to score pills and heroin, Shae blames herself as Cam pulls away and thrives at college. Maren beautifully evokes both the natural beauty of Appalachia and Shae’s plaintive longing for Cam, though the characterization of the saintly Cam, who returns to take custody of Eva while still an undergrad, feels a bit flat. Still, Maren continues to show a knack for portraying the complexities and contradictions of an often-misunderstood part of America. Agent: Bill Clegg, Clegg Agency. (May)