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.
"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."
“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."
“The search for identity, both familial and sexual, is at the core of this outstanding debut. Shane Stephenson and his friends inhabit a harsh world where drugs and violence are omnipresent, hope of a better life too often thwarted. Strom renders their lives with sympathy but not sentimentality, and we come to care deeply for Shane and his friends as the novel moves toward its powerful conclusion.”
—Ron Rash, New York Times bestselling author of Serena and Above the Waterfall
"With echoes of Richard Ford and early Hemingway, Raymond Strom’s Northern Lights shows us a cold landscape, a heartland that has never had a more frightening hold on the nightmares of this country, illuminating an American sadness that needs to be understood before it overwhelms us all."
—Mark Mirsky, author of The Red Adam and Blue Hill Avenue
"Raymond Strom's lovely and unflinching coming-of-age novel tracks a non-binary youth looking for acceptance and discovering self-worth among friends in a struggling midwestern town the summer before college. The powerful bonds of at-risk youth are vividly portrayed and movingly rendered. I found myself rooting for this crew of troubled, resourceful kids. A stirring debut."
—Emily Raboteau, author of The Professor's Daughter and Searching for Zion, winner of the American Book Award
"Sweet and sneaky, Northern Lights is a novel to savor, a sad and heartfelt exploration of the families that fail us and the ones we construct after. This is a book to read, and Raymond Strom is a writer to remember."
—Greg Downs, author of Spit Baths, winner of the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction
"In Raymond Strom’s haunting, propulsive, and beautifully rendered debut, a group of misfits chase transcendence in a dying town. Cut with both violence and tenderness, Northern Lights deftly captures the knife-edge of addiction, the electricity of first love, and the insatiable search for belonging."
—Jessie Chaffee, author of Florence in Ecstasy
"Written with a mesmerizing voice as crystalline and startling as the title suggests, Northern Lights is a beautiful, drug-fueled coming-of-age set in the strung-out, debt-crushed American upper midwest. Strom's cool, sharp-eyed clarity and tender pathos calls Denis Johnson to mind—the ghost of Jesus' Son shimmers in these pages."
—Brendan Kiely, New York Times bestselling author of All American Boys and Tradition