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Stray City

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  2,845 ratings  ·  497 reviews
A warm, funny, and whip-smart debut novel about rebellious youth, inconceivable motherhood, and the complications of belonging—to a city, a culture, and a family—when none of them can quite contain who you really are.

All of us were refugees of the nuclear family . . .

Twenty-three-year-old artist Andrea Morales escaped her Midwestern Catholic childhood—and the closet—to cre
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published March 20th 2018 by Custom House
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Average rating 3.80  · 
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 ·  2,845 ratings  ·  497 reviews

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Will Byrnes
Nov 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was like a bird who stashed every feather it molted. I’d nested in old selves for too long, afraid I’d need them again.
Andrea Morales came to Portland, Oregon, to attend Reed College. Unlike the environment in her Nebraska home town, Portland offered a world in which it was entirely ok to be gay and out. In fact, she soon found herself part of a thriving lesbian sub-culture. But when Mom and Dad, heavily Catholic, learned that she had a girlfriend, parental funding for Reed was axed, and
Elyse  Walters
Feb 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Update... $1.99 Kindle download today. It’s fresh - - vibrant - - funny - - insightful - - darn good!!!
Creative - takes place in Portland!

“ Portland in the Nineties was a lot like me: Broke, struggling with employment, mostly white, mostly hopeful even though there was no real change in sight. For all the drive-through espresso stands and downtown restoration, the new paint on aged bungalows and vintage glasses on young women, it was still an old industrial river town in a remote co
Mar 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
The naked man body still made me bashful. You get used to seeing naked women all your life, but a man’s floppy cluster looks so exposed and hapless.

this is a sweet, breezy reversal of the “gay for you” trope, in which andrea morales, an established lesbian who has sacrificed her college education and severed all contact with her homophobic parents in order to live freely and openly, hooks up with a dude, gets pregnant, and decides, like madonna, she’s keeping her baby (but not the dude), no matt
Mar 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ew
4 high stars

Stray Friends was a lovely surprise. I had no expectations when I started this book, knowing nothing about the story or the author.

The first part of the story takes place in the late 1990s, focusing on Andrea in her early twenties in Portland, Oregon. Andrea (or Andie as she is known by her friends) is gay, and living an insulated life within her tight knit community of friends. At a crisis point in her life, Andie “strays” toward a relationship with a man, which puts her at odds wi
Mar 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc, adult-fiction, lgbtq
A heartwarming and witty book about a lesbian who has sex with a man, gets pregnant, and decides to keep the baby. Though Stray City pays homage to a distinct setting and community - the lesbian underground scene of 90's Portland - its themes of identity, searching for belonging, and art are universal. The novel contains challenging scenes such as facing rejection from a homophobic biological family, followed by exclusion from a queer family of choice, as well as humorous and insightful one-line ...more
May 18, 2018 rated it liked it

“Portland in the Nineties was a lot like me - broke, struggling with employment, mostly white, mostly hopeful even though there was no real change in sight .” This initial sentence of Stray City grabbed me. By the end of the first page I had already highlighted three quotes. So I was all prepared to just love this novel. And I wish I could say the book kept up that level of intensity, but it didn’t. It dragged in places. It takes forever to get the story moving. The book could have used a much s
Bam cooks the books ;-)
Andrea Morales was born and raised in rural Nebraska, part of a devout Catholic family. When she comes to the realization as a young teen that she is lesbian, she tries to be the best daughter she can be--never rebellious, good grades in school, attending mass regularly--in the hopes of storing up brownie points for the eventual day when she 'comes out' to her family.

Then in the late 1990s, 'Andy' goes off to college in Portland, Oregon and there, amongst a strong lesbian community, she can fin
Nov 18, 2018 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: People who think Portlandia is good
Lesbian books written for straight people are just *icky*. I should have been on my guard when I noticed it was a large publishing house that released this rather than the struggling small presses who typically release books for us, but as a recent evacuee of Portland I felt a keen urge to see my city reflected in its pages. Homesickness kept me reading and saw me through to the end, but this book just left a bad taste in my mouth and put me in a funk. Looking at the people on my friend's list w ...more
Nov 14, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018-read, usa
This "Tournament of Books 2019" longlistee is compulsively readable, and it was easy to tackle these well-written 432 pages in two days. In her debut novel, Johnson tells the story of Andrea Morales, a lesbian who has an affair with a male drummer, gets pregnant and decides to keep the baby - so at the core, this book talks about the importance of love and authenticity, as opposed to empty conventions. Andy breaks free from her Catholic family and finds friendship and understanding in Portland, ...more
Mar 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
I received a free copy of Stray City by Chelsey Johnson from Goodreads for my review.

A very well-told nicely written debut novel. The main character, Andrea, who is a lesbian, has a fling with a heterosexual guy named Ryan. Ryan is a rocker. Andrea gets pregnant and decides to keep the baby. The book is entertaining, funny, and very emotional. It will tug on your heart-strings for a long time.
Thank you, William Morrow for sending me, "Stray City" by Chelsey Johnson, in exchange for an honest review.

I really liked the emotional integrity of this novel. I enjoyed Andrea and Ryan's unconventional "relationship". The writing, plot, and the overall tone was witty, refreshing, smart, and an absolute pleasure to read. The only thing that really irked me was that the narrative switches to third person 300 pages in. I felt frustrated and a little detached from the story after that occurred. I
Mar 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really liked this book. It felt very honest and authentic about queer community/belonging (90s lesbian Portland, to be specific), good and bad. Andrea is a 24-year-old lesbian reeling from a breakup. She ends up in this kind of relationship w/ a guy, who she likes but isn't really attracted to. It's more an easy connection and validation. Things get complicated when she gets accidentally pregnant. Smart writing and insights that felt so true to my experiences (again, good and bad).

I wish John
Danika at The Lesbrary
Whew! This was really good, but also challenging for me, personally. Andrea and Ryan's relationship was painful to experience. It is interesting to read about something that I have definitely seen in real life, but never seen in a book: a lesbian who has sex with a man, but still isn't attracted to men. Andrea is looking for something else from the experience: an ease, an uncomplicated connection. An assurance of being wanted, both sexually and personally. Of course, this ends up getting very, v ...more
Jun 26, 2018 rated it liked it
Recommended to TL by: karen
I won a copy via Goodreads giveaways in exchange for an honest review. All my opinions are my own.:)

This one was a mixed bag throughout for me. I kept going through the cycle of "Pretty good", "Hmm... not sure" "Annoying" "Boring"

The atmosphere was good but I never really connected to the main people themselves. I was interested enough to continue but it didn't much rise beyond that.

That sounds super vague but I never really know what to say sometimes when I think a book is just "okay." Some
Apr 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
4.5 This ended pretty abruptly--I actually flipped back to double check--but it didn't end poorly. I just wanted so much more of the story! Excellent debut novel with wonderful characters! ...more
Oct 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
A friend got an advance reader copy for me, so I'm sorry y'all have to wait for this to come out! On the surface, it's kind of like a bingo card of things I would love: 1990s lesbian culture, Portland, potlucks, romance, girls rock camp, zines, a main character who archives her own personal history. It's really about family, love, friendship, growing up, and trusting other people. The characters are complicated and so are their relationships. ...more
lucky little cat
I don't require all of my favorite fiction to demonstrate proper reverence for cats. But it doesn't hurt.

Llewyn Davis, Oscar Isaac, and the Coen brothers also know from cats

This warm, lovely story of 1990s Pacific Northwest bohemians will fulfill a need you didn't even know you had. Let me digress: in 1973, genius music producer David Geffen met and fell deeply in love with Cher. Their affair in no way altered his sexual orientation as a gay man (duh). In the years since, Geffen has be
Mar 26, 2018 rated it it was ok
I realize I'm the odd person out here with my 2 star review; however, I was really disappointed by this book. It reads like a diary of an unfortunately annoying person in a very judgmental community. Instead of highlighting the openness of queer community, this paints a very specific picture of one group at a given time.

There is no creativity or innovation in this novel. SO much of the book is spent chronicling a heterosexual relationship even though a number of characters complain about hetero
Nov 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: galleys, glbt, netgalley
In 1999, when this book takes place, I was a 19 year old kid finding queer community/family in Vermont, a place that is often compared to Oregon. I recognized a lot of Andrea's life in my own, though thankfully not the fundie parents, and the need to flee.
Andrea's story is believable, and complex. She loves her friends and feels complicated about her desire for a man despite her adamantly lesbian identity. I enjoyed her relationships, her love of music, their potluck dinners.
Fast forward 10 ye
Nov 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: x2019-read, auth-f
I really liked this story of finding oneself and finding family. There is such a lovely sense of hope throughout this story, as Andrea moves to Portland from Nebraska, and comes out as a lesbian. She finds a community in the city, which is particularly important after her parents don’t take her news well. After a failed relationship, and rebound sex, she finds herself pregnant. And facing a variety of responses from angry and disgusted, to supporting, from her circle of lesbian friends. (I did t ...more
Chloe Moffett
Nov 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Stray City is a phenomenal book - you will fall in love with Andrea and her chosen family, and adorable Lucia. The writing is absolutely beautiful, this is a profound story about home and family.
Mar 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Chelsey Johnson is a talent. Her words and sentences are colorful, smart, and edgy and you can feel every emotion she conveys. Her characters are flawed but realistic and though the story features queer women, as cisgender, I still found it all incredibly accessible.

Stray City is a hopeful story of the family you have and the family you create, love and affection in all its forms, and what it was like to be queer and in Portland in the 1990’s.

A truly unmissable novel.
ARC received from publisher

When I first read the back of this book, I thought, "Oh no, this is going to be a book filled with stereotypical lesbian and gay characters from Portland in the '90's." I could not have been more wrong. Sure there are LBGTQ characters in a time long before the term LBGTQ existed. However, these characters are real people with real problems who happen to fit in with each other. At it's heart this is a story about family.

Andrea is a lesbian trying to get away from her fa
Apr 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
A light - but still satisfyingly meaty - book that burrows deep into its main character, Andrea, a proud member of the "Lesbian Mafia" in late-90s Portland who hooks up with a guy while on the rebound and accidentally gets pregnant. It's such a great depiction of the time period, of complicated relationship and sexual identity. None of the characters are perfect, including Andrea, her posse of friends, or her (kind of?) boyfriend, Ryan, but they're all incredibly relatable. I especially loved th ...more
May 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: u-s, favorites, lin, 2, 2018
An authentic, warm and engaging novel that reveals the ache of finding oneself, a longing to belong and the challenging and sometimes conflicted decisions that need to be made in life. Raised in a Catholic family in Nebraska, Andrea Morales knows she has to move away if she wants to be herself and live her life freely. College is the opportunity and she heads to Portland, Ore., in the 1990s to enroll in Reed College - where student activism, art and liberalism fuel her. She blossoms and thrives ...more
Courtney Williams
Dec 04, 2018 rated it it was ok
I initially picked up this book at the library because of the cat on the cover. I can't resist anything with cats, and the little blurb on the inside of the front cover seemed promising, so I took it home without a second thought.

I enjoyed the first part of the book and was letting it meander along, right up until the point where all the characters shit all over people who are bisexual. For a book where all the characters are members of an oppressed community and they preach inclusion and smashi
Erin Glover
Apr 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
I was pulled right in to Andrea Morales's Lesbian Mafia life in Portland, Oregon in the 1990's. Johnson artfully uses the first person to describe Andrea's point of view after "escaping" from Nebraska. So many passages are captivating and funny and surprising. For example:

"Meena had intel that the coffee girl was straight--one of those girls who affects android queer chic and looks heartbreakingly good in it but actually only dates men. We resented this kind of girl."

Andrea's life was so differe
Nov 15, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2018-reads
This is be a DNF for me. I'm halfway in and feeling bait and switched by a book I thought would be about lesbians that's so far about how thrilling and fulfilling it is to finally find the right heterosexual relationship with a wholesome dude and how catty and self-victimizing gay women are.

I recognize that all communities have toxic subsections but when all female characters and all gay secondary characters are terrible people within a story it seems marked. And at this point halfway in, the w
Feb 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
I legitimately picked this book up just because it had a cat on it that looked kind of liked my cat and let me tell you, I am incredibly glad I did. It had everything I wanted in a book—punk, lesbians, romance, stray animals, and a look at life in a very artsy town. I didn’t love all of it—I especially did not appreciate the diatribe on bisexuals not being a valid identity, though I do get that’s how a lot of people view that. Overall, though, the relationships and characters in this book were b ...more
Sep 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
So Good. Johnson's portrait of '90's indie Portland is so spot on, it hurts. Her characters are fully alive on the page, and I can't help but feel they are continuing to live on somewhere past the last page of the book. Stray City is funny, poignant, heartbreaking, and I couldn't love it more. ...more
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topics  posts  views  last activity   
Queer Book Review: Stray City 1 10 Oct 17, 2019 08:57AM  
Play Book Tag: Stray City/Chelsey Johnson/3 Stars 2 13 Oct 01, 2019 12:24PM  
We Read Stuff: September 2019 - GLBTQI+ Stray City 4 11 Sep 29, 2019 03:08PM  
Legends in my lunchtimes 1 7 Feb 28, 2018 01:16AM  
Goodreads Librari...: Please add cover 3 17 Feb 16, 2018 05:35AM  

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Chelsey Johnson is the author of the Stray City (Custom House/HarperCollins, 2018) and her stories and essays have appeared in Ploughshares, One Story, Ninth Letter, The Rumpus, and NPR's Selected Shorts, among others. She received an MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and a Stegner Fellowship from Stanford. Stray City is her first novel. ...more

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