Young Mungo is the second book by Douglas Stuart, the author of the 2020 Booker Prize winner Shuggie Bain. Shuggie Bain was such a brilliant, but also raw, heartbreaking and brutal book, that had such a deep impact on me. Young Mung was therefore one of my most anticipated new releases this year and I was so grateful for the opportunity to read an ARC of it. But even though the writing style and the portrayal of working-class life and toxic masculinity was quite similar to Shuggie Bain, this book was a little less devastating and Mungo a little less engaging character.
Just like Shuggie Bain, Young Mungo is a vivid coming-of-age story taking place in a depressing working class setting in Glasgow, with neglecting and abusive parents, alcoholism, homophobia and violence. Mungo is a bit older than Shuggie though, so the aspect of him realizing that he is gay and the forbidden relationship with James becomes central to the story. Despite all odds, Mungo a Protestant and James a Catholic, meet and fall in love when they should have been sworn enemies and despite knowing the harsh reactions this will evoke.
The story is told in a dual timeline, but with only a few months in between. From the present it takes us backward to Mungo’s life in the period up to and during the romance with James, and then back again. The story taking place in the present time reflects the aftermath of the relationship and adds a horrific twist when Mungo’s mother sends him on a camping trip to a remote Scottish loch with two men she knows from AA to make him ‘man up’, but only to send him straight into the hands of two child molesters. (No spoiler, this part is actually the opening scene of the book.) Like in Shuggie Bains, there isn’t any good news to expect. Around Mungo, his alcoholic mother and his siblings (Hamish, the brutal gang leader and Jodie, who dreams of going to university) there is poverty, unemployment, violence and prejudice, and an overall sense of hopelessness.
The mother is a little less in focus compared to Agnes in Shuggie Bain, so this book is more clearly Mungo’s own story. But that was perhaps also what made this book less engaging and emotional than Shuggie Bain, since Mungo as a main character is a bit bland and I never fully rooted for him the way I rooted for Shuggie, and the way I wanted to protect him from his mother. So, even though this book was not more brutal, violent or heartbreaking than Shuggie Bain I still found myself struggling more with the content this time. Perhaps because it felt too much after reading Shuggie Bain, or perhaps because I didn’t root as much for Mungo and therefore the joy and love that nevertheless was in the book didn’t outweigh the dark and disturbing parts.
But all in all, this was another beautifully written, heartbreaking and tragic coming-of-age story that showed the violence faced by many queer people and the terrible consequences that can come from loving someone you’re not supposed to in a surrounding full of toxic masculinity, prejudice and religious fundamentalism.
Thank you to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for the ARC of this book, which I have voluntarily reviewed.
3.5 stars rounding up to 4
Get your own copy:
A brilliant book and such a worthy winner of the Booker Prize 2020! But also such a dark, depressing and brutal read. It reminded me a lot of A Little Life, and just like that book it left devastated and uneasy after reading it. I know it’s a book that will stay with me and that I will never forget, even though I almost wish for it. Shuggie Bain is a raw storytelling that is both heartbreaking and deeply moving, beautiful and brutal, compassionate and encouraging as well as painful and frustrating at the same time.
The story follows the sweet, lonely, gay boy Shuggie Bain growing up in the economic and social stagnation of 1980s Glasgow, Scotland, together with his alcoholic mother. Abandoned by his father and older siblings, he struggles to take on the responsibility and care for his mother, while also struggling to become the normal boy he desperately longs to be instead of the “no right” boy with a secret that all but him can see. It’s a portrait of a struggling city and post-industrial working-class community, a mother that is shunned by the other women and preyed upon by the men and of a young boy being outcast for who he is and navigating the harsh reality the best he can.
I actually think that “Agnes Bain” would have been a better title though, since the main focus and the center for the story and all the other characters is Shuggie’s mother and her struggle with the addiction and misery.
I have to admit that there were so many times I got frustrated with Agnes and the poor decisions she kept making and the way she was abusive to Shuggie and her elder children. But mostly I pitied her, and felt deeply sorry for Shuggie. It was impossible to not see how deep his love for his mother was, and to see the sweet, fun and glorious parts of Agnes’s personality through Shuggie’s eyes. So for most of the time, Shuggie made me feel compassion for Agnes too.
This book is brilliant, clearly written from the heart and with a wonderful flow. It’s agonizing and heart-wrenching, tragic and so depressing, but -luckily- with a few glimmers of hope. It such a worthy Booker Prize winner, but for me it was a bit on the long side and just too dark and devastating. It made me feel uneasy, frustrated, heartbroken and just too sad to fully appreciate it. Therefore, I can only give it a four star rating, even though I recognize that it is an amazing book and future classics.
I do encourage everyone to read it though, just be aware of the trigger warnings and be prepared for your heart and mind to be scrambled.
Get your own copy:
All 1 Star 2 Stars 3 Stars 4 Stars 5 Stars Abbi Glines Abdi Nazemian Adam Silvera Aiden Thomas Aisha Saeed AJ Collins Alexandra Christo Alexis Hall Alex Kelly Alex Sanchez Alice Dolman Alice Oseman Al Riske Alwyn Hamilton A. Meredith Walters Amy Harmon Amy S. Foster André Aciman Andy V Roamer Angie Thomas Annabeth Albert A. Poland Ashley Poston Ashley Woodfolk Audrey Coulthurst Becca Fitzpatrick Becky Albertalli Benjamin Alire Saenz Beth Bolden Bill Konigsberg Briar Prescott Bri Spicer Brooke Skipstone Cale Dietrich Casey McQuiston Cassandra Clare C.G. Drews Chris Bedell Ciara Smyth Clarissa Pattern C.L. Beaumont Colleen Hoover Crystal Frasier C.S. Pacat Daven McQueen David Biddle David Yoon Dean Atta Debbie McGowan Debbie Rigaud Deborah Harkness Delia Owens D.G. Carothers Dhonielle Clayton Douglas Stuart Dustin Thao Elizabeth Acevedo Elle Kennedy Elle Wright E. Lockhart Emily M. Danforth Emily Mims Erin Watt Ernest Cline Eve Morton Everina Maxwell Evie Dunmore Felice Stevens Grace Williams Gwen Martin Hanya Yanagihara Hayden Stone Heather Truett Hettie Bell Holly Black Hope Irving Hudson Lin Ingrid Sterling Jacqueline Lee Jacqueline Woodson Jamie Deacon Jandy Nelson Jax Calder Jay Hogan Jeanette Winterson Jeff Zentner Jenna Evans Welch Jenn Burke Jennifer E. Smith Jennifer G. Edelson Jennifer Gilmore Jennifer Iacopelli Jennifer Kropf Jennifer Niven Jenny Downham Jenny Han Jeremy Ray John Green Julianne Donaldson Kacen Callender Kami Garcia Kara Leigh Miller Kasie West Kate Larkindale Katharine McGee Kathleen Mareé KD Casey Kendall Grey Kevin Van Whye Kiley Reid Kim Fielding Kim Holden Kim Liggett Kitty Bardot Kris Ripper K.S. Marsden Laura Hall Laura Pavlov Laura Silverman Lauren James Laurie Frankel Leah Johnson Lee Matthew Goldberg Leigh Bardugo Leylah Attar Lisa Williamson Liv Rancourt Liz Plum Lola Noire Mackenzi Lee Madeline Miller Maggie Doolin Maggie Stiefvater Malin Persson Giolito Malorie Blackman Margaret Stohl Marie Lu Mary E. Pearson Mason Deaver Matthew R. Corr Melina Marchetta Meredith Russo Miel Moreland Mila Gray Miranda Kenneally Moa Backe Astot M. Tasia Nancy Garden Natalie Haynes Nicholas Sparks Nicola Yoon Nic Stone Nina Kenwood Nita Tyndall Nora Sakavic N.R. Walker Penny Aimes Phil Stamper Quinn Anderson Rachael Lippincott Rachel Hawkins Rainbow Rowell Ray Stoeve River Braun Roan Parrish Roseanne A. Brown Ruby Moone Ruta Sepetys Ryan La Sala Sally Green Sarah J. Maas Sarah Waters Sarina Bowen Saundra Mitchell Sidney Bell Simone Elkeles Siryn Sueng Sophia DeRise Sophie Gonzales Stephen Chbosky Stephenie Meyer Susan Mac Nicol Suzanne Collins Tahereh Mafi Teagan Hunter Tiffany D. Jackson T.J. Klune Tomi Adeyemi Val Wise Veronica Rossi Veronica Roth V.E. Schwab Wesley Chu Victor Dixen Victoria Aveyard Xan Van Rooyen Yamile Saied Méndez