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:
All 1 Star 2 Stars 3 Stars 4 Stars 5 Stars Abbi Glines Abby Kaitz Abdi Nazemian Adam Silvera Adib Khorram Aiden Thomas Aisha Saeed Aislinn Brophy AJ Collins Alexandra Christo Alex Beltran Alexene Farol Follmuth Alexis Hall Alex Kelly Alex Sanchez Alice Dolman Alice Oseman Alice Winn Ali Hazelwood Alison Cochrun Al Riske Alwyn Hamilton Amanda Ferreira Amanda Woody A. Meredith Walters Amy Aislin Amy Harmon Amy S. Foster Amy Spalding André Aciman Andy V Roamer Angie Thomas Annabeth Albert A. Poland Ashley Poston Ashley Woodfolk Ashlyn Kane Audrey Coulthurst Ban Gilmartin Becca Fitzpatrick Becky Albertalli Benjamin Alire Saenz Beth Bolden Bill Konigsberg B.L. Maxwell Briar Prescott Bri Spicer Brooke Skipstone Cait Nary Cale Dietrich Cara Dee Casey McQuiston Cassandra Clare Cat Sebastian C.F. White C.G. Drews Charlie Adhara Charli Meadows Chasten Buttigieg Chris Bedell Christina Lauren Christina Lee Ciara Smyth Claerie Kavanaugh Clarissa Pattern C.L. Beaumont Colette Davison Colleen Hoover Courtney Kae Crystal Frasier C.S. Pacat Dallas Smith Daven McQueen David Biddle David Yoon Dean Atta Debbie McGowan Debbie Rigaud Debbie Schrack Deborah Harkness Delia Owens D.G. Carothers Dhonielle Clayton D.N. Bryn Douglas Stuart Dustin Thao Elisa A. Bonnin Elizabeth Acevedo Elizabeth Arroyo Elle Kennedy Elle Wright E.L. Massey E. Lockhart Emery Lee Emily M. Danforth Emily Mims Erin Watt Ernest Cline Evan J. Corbin Eve Morton Everina Maxwell Evie Dunmore Felice Stevens F.T. Lukens Grace Williams Gwen Martin Hannah Grace Hanya Yanagihara Hayden Stone Heather Truett H.E. Edgmon Hettie Bell Holly Black Hope Irving H.S. Valley Hudson Lin Ingrid Sterling Jacob Gelman Jacqueline Lee Jacqueline Woodson James L. Sutter Jamie Deacon Jandy Nelson Jax Calder Jay Hogan Jeanette Winterson Jeff Zentner Jen Bailey 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 Jesse H. Reign Joelle Lynne John Green Jonny Garza Villa Julianne Donaldson Julian Winters Kacen Callender Kami Garcia Kara Leigh Miller Kasie West Kate Larkindale Katharine McGee Kathleen Mareé Kathy Anderson K.A. Tucker 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 Lauren Shippen Laurie Frankel Leah Johnson Lee Matthew Goldberg Leigh Bardugo Lex Croucher Leylah Attar Lisa Henry Lisa Williamson Lisa Wingate Liv Rancourt Liz Plum Lola Noire Lynn Michaels Mackenzi Lee Madeline Miller Magdalena Di Sotru Maggie Doolin Maggie Stiefvater Malin Persson Giolito Malorie Blackman Margaret Stohl Marie Lu Mary E. Pearson Mason Deaver Matthew R. Corr M.A. Wardell Melanie Munton Melina Marchetta Meredith Russo Miel Moreland Mila Gray Miranda Kenneally Moa Backe Astot Morgan James M. Tasia Nancy Garden Natalie Haynes Nathaniel Shea Nicholas Sparks Nicola Yoon Nic Starr Nic Stone Nina Kenwood Nita Tyndall Nora Sakavic N.R. Walker Nyla K. Owen Lach Penny Aimes Phil Stamper Quinn Anderson Rachael Brownell Rachael Lippincott Rachel Hawkins Rachel Reid Racquel Marie Rainbow Rowell Ray Stoeve Renée Dahlia Rhiannon Wilde Riley Hart River Braun Roan Parrish Robin Gow Roseanne A. Brown Rowan MacKemsley Ruby Moone Ruta Sepetys Ryan La Sala Sally Green Sally Rooney Sarah J. Maas Sarah Waters Sarina Bowen Sasha Laurens Saundra Mitchell Saxon James Serena Bell Shannon O’Connor Sidney Bell Simone Elkeles Siryn Sueng Sophia DeRise Sophia Soames Sophie Gonzales S.R. Lane Stephen Chbosky Stephenie Meyer Steven Salvatore Susan Mac Nicol Suzanne Collins Tahereh Mafi Tal Bauer Tamara Girardi Taylor Jenkins Reid Teagan Hunter Terry J. Benton-Walker Tiffany D. Jackson Timothy Janovsky T.J. Klune T.L. Bradford Tobly McSmith Tomasz Jedrowski Tomi Adeyemi Tracy Deonn Tucker Shaw Val Wise Veronica Rossi Veronica Roth V.E. Schwab Wesley Chu Victor Dixen Victoria Aveyard V.L. Stuart Xan Van Rooyen Yamile Saied Méndez