cover of debut novel northern lights author raymond strom simon and schuster 2019 thumb thumbnail
cover of debut novel northern lights author raymond strom simon and schuster 2019 thumb thumbnail

On a clear morning in the summer of 1997, Shane Stephenson arrives in Holm, Minnesota, with only a few changes of clothes, an old Nintendo, and a few dollars to his name. Reeling from the death of his father, Shane wants to find the mother who abandoned him as an adolescent—hoping to reconnect, but also to better understand himself. Against the backdrop of Minnesota’s rugged wilderness, and a town littered with shuttered shops, graffiti, and crumbling infrastructure, Shane is drawn in by a group of sympathetic friends in their teens and early twenties, all similarly lost: the reckless, charming J and his girlfriend Mary; Jenny, a brilliant and beautiful artist who dreams of escaping Holm; and the mysterious loner Russell, with whom Shane, against his better judgment, feels a strange attraction.


Raymond Strom was born in Minnesota and spent his childhood in small towns throughout the Midwest. His writing has appeared in Fiction, Tweed's, and The New York Times. He made a music playlist for Northern Lights, featured on Largehearted Boy.


“Strom paints a portrait of small-town life that is sure to make readers shiver, giving us death, alcohol, addiction, drugs, sex, bigotry, all wrapped up in the neat package that makes up Holm. Shane is heartbreaking, and readers will have a hard time parting with him after the book is over. A powerful depiction of the currency of intolerance and addiction in one small town."

Kirkus Reviews

"Strom’s insightful navigation of family trauma, sexual identity, and small-town despair blends with his chilling depictions of drug abuse. This bleak, unsentimental novel will resonate with readers who like gritty coming-of-age tales."

Publishers Weekly

"Strom's prose flawlessly and fastidiously conveys the intensity and wretchedness of Shane's predicament and surroundings, and yet there is a beauty and poetry to it that implies a sense of hope..." 

Edge Media Network

"Getting to know these characters, it is clear that [abandonment] haunts every single one of them... I felt for all of the characters in the book, even the bullies... Even the racists."

Vol. 1 Brooklyn

"[Strom] writes his characters and scenes with graphic clarity, with no attempt to gloss them over, but does leave the reader cheering for this group of unlikely friends.” 

Bismarck Tribune

“Congratulations needs to be extended for this fine novel, and hopefully [Strom] will continue to add to his literary catalogue by writing further fiction of this caliber.” 

New York Journal of Books

"[Strom's] depiction of young people in the fictional town of Holm, Minnesota rings so true in his debut novel Northern Lights.” 

St Paul Pioneer Press

"Strom’s writing is plainspoken and without airs, and Shane gets under your skin. It’s like he’s drawn with a fine-point pencil. " 

MinnPost Artscape

"You come away from this novel feeling as though as though you’ve met real people and engaged with them in their lives." 

Southern Minnesota Review

"Northern Lights offers, in Strom, a fresh and gifted voice from which much can be expected." 

Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star

"Strom paints an aching portrait of a young man searching for a sense of self and belonging..."

Shelf Awareness

“Shane Stephenson is a keeper.” 

Minneapolis Star Tribune