A review by abbie_
Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart

challenging dark emotional sad slow-paced
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes
Thank you @picadorbooks for sending me a free advanced copy of Shuggie Bain to review! This one is out today, and it's a seriously gritty and heartbreaking story of a family in Glasgow in the 80s. I've not really read anything set during this time, when working class families were facing unemployment and poverty after mines and shipyards were closed under Thatcher's government.
The book focuses on Hugh 'Shuggie' Bain and his mother Agnes, a glamorous woman with a debilitating alcohol problem. My heart broke so many times while reading this book. Watching Shuggie, just five or six years old when the book starts, trying to take care of his mother as she battles her addiction, while growing up in poverty around people who want to hurt and humiliate him because of his sexuality. It's not an easy read, as Stuart delves into troubling issues such as domestic abuse, alcoholism and homophobia.
But Shuggie's friendship with Leanne was a beautiful thing, as well as the bond between Shuggie and his brother Leek. However, overall, sadness and despair prevail. I know it's mainly Shuggie's story, but Agnes stole the show for me. Hers truly is a tragic story, her addiction, her struggles to feed her family after men come and go in her life, using her and her alcoholism for their own benefit. So many times while reading my stomach would sink or my heart would clench as the sense of foreboding loomed, another blow for the Bain family was on the way.  
I thought Stuart did a fantastic job depicting the realities of life for working-class families during this time in Glasgow, I particularly enjoyed the use of Glaswegian dialect throughout. He also demonstrates the way prejudices expressed in the home can become ingrained in children without them even understanding it. Children parrot sexist, homophobic and racist slurs without any idea what they mean, learning by example.
It was a little bit slow at times, some sections felt a tad dragged out, but overall I was utterly engrossed in this novel. It's horrifying at times, but an important book I feel. I'm looking forward to whatever Stuart writes next!