Book Reviews

6 Degrees of Separation: Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart





This month we start off with Shuggie Bain: A Novel by Douglas Stuart. The story of a boy, Hugh, aka “Shuggie Bain”and his single mother, and his siblings living in a crappy public housing project in Thatcher-era (Reagan era) Glasgow. I haven’t read it yet, but probably will. It won the Booker Prize and other awards.




The first book that popped into my mind was Trainspotting, set in Edinburgh, not Glasgow or elsewhere in Scotland. I watched the movie and read the book when they came out. It was horrific. Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh.



Thank you Amazon,  for invading my thoughts while getting a cover shot of Trainspotting. The next book, which does go very well, was a comparison in the review–Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt–the book that made a school teacher a legend in his own time. Another story of a God-forsaken childhood in a hell-hole home in dire poverty–this time in Dublin.



“Roll up! Roll up! For the magical misery tour!” Honestly, what a depressing chain! The Glass Castle, across the ocean in various American locations, features a family so horribly dysfunctional it is amazing anyone could create anything by a felony record after growing up in it. From cutting the green stuff off the ham to even worse, how this family existed is beyond me. It was impossible to put down though when I read it right after it came out. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.



Heading to the local abattoir with a bucket in order to feed your children boiled blood is about as poor as a human can get without starving to death. Yet Mark Mathabane eventually comes to the attention of tennis great Stan Smith and comes out of his dire poverty with a scholarship to college. For those who do not know, “Ka–f-r” is the South African “N—–” word. Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane.


Having run out of true-life wretchedness, I’ll turn to the fictional kind. Set in the racist Chicago of the 1930’s–the era of lynchings and FDR refusing to sponsor a lynching bill so he could re-elected, Native Son tells of  how a young man ruins his life in a moment’s panic. Native Son by Richard Wright.



Few have had a childhood and adolescence as scarring as Maya Angelou’s. Raped as a child in an era when there was no help, she descends into prostitution, but, as we know, eventually found her way and her voice and became an American treasure. I  did not so much read her entire autobiography series as inhaling it, feast on it, mourn with it, and tear my clothes for it, then give thanks at the redemption that was hers in the end. The Ghana years book, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes was the best–I read it when Africa still resonated powerfully within me after living in Malawi. I loved her poem at Clinton’s Inauguration, too. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou.

A Bonus Book


I couldn’t include Native Son and not include Nickel Boys. Although not mired in misery at the start of the book, Elwood lands in the ultimate misery–a Florida Reform School in the Jim Crow years. This novel, while based somewhat on a real reform school is a compelling, if horrific read. Not horrific as in Auschwitz, or Pol Pot, or the Armenian Genocide,  or the Trail of Tears, but bad enough to horrify. The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead.

Want to join in next month? Here are all the rules

21 thoughts on “6 Degrees of Separation: Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

  1. Did you see the Glass Castle movie adaptation? I love the casting but the story was like a Disney movie…..even celebrating dad at the end.


    1. It was also interesting to me how my perceptions of mom and dad changed throughout the book. I ended up concluding that mom was the one with some significant mental health challenges. I was also amazed by the author’s graciousness toward her parents. An interesting memoir!


  2. ‘Magical misery tour’ – brilliant! Sometimes it just turns out like that, doesn’t it. Bravo on sticking with it to create a very thought-provoking chain. 😀


  3. Fascinating chain! I tried SO hard to read Trainspotting but the jargon and vernacular style was just impossible for me. Loved Angela’s Ashes, but never read his follow up book, although I have a copy on my shelf. I read Native Son in school – very powerful novel.


  4. We both chose the Nickel Boys then. And Trainspotting was an inspired choice. Why didn’t I think of that? We’ve both gone down the Dark Route. So while I’ll add the few I haven’t read to my TBR, maybe … not just yet! A great chain


  5. Tough books, all of these! But I guess it’s unavoidable when a chain starts with Shuggie Bain. I hadn’t heard of Kaffir Boy and Native Son, but they seem equally harrowing. I am glad the chain ended with “I know why”, which gives some measure of comfort in knowing that Angelou found some measure of grace. Angelou is an inspiration for everyone.
    ~ Lex

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I haven’t read the book, but I love the film adaptation of Trainspotting. It really is a dark chain, but actually I would like to read several of your chosen books, including The Nickel Boys and Angela’s Ashes.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have to take this genre very slowly, they upset me. After reading The Glass Castle, I was very careful not to read anything so dark for a while. I also have this problem after reading the horrors of World War II. Maybe I have reached the age where I should read only “light” novels!!!!

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  8. Angela’s Ashes and The Glass Castle almost made it into my chain but I ultimately decided to stick with fictional titles. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was so powerful but I haven’t continued with her other books. I can’t imagine surviving the things she did, much less becoming such a powerful voice. Great chain!

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  9. I was planning to show my boys the film Trainspotting but it had disappeared from the TV platform by the time we got round to it. I remember thinking I needed subtitles (and maybe a dictionary) when I first saw it – and reading the book only helped a little.

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