Young Mungo

The highly anticipated second novel by the Booker Prize-winning author of Shuggie Bain

by Douglas Stuart
Grove Press
Grove Press

A story of queer love and working-class families, Young Mungo is the brilliant second novel from the Booker Prize-winning author of Shuggie Bain

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 416
  • Publication Date March 21, 2023
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-6212-0
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $18.00
  • Imprint Grove Hardcover
  • Page Count 400
  • Publication Date April 05, 2022
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5955-7
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $27.00
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Publication Date April 05, 2022
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5956-4
  • US List Price $27.00

Author Biography

Douglas Stuart

Douglas Stuart is a New York Times bestselling author whose work has been translated into over forty languages. His debut novel, Shuggie Bain, won the 2020 Booker Prize, was a finalist for the National Book Award. It was named both the British Book of the Year, and Debut of the Year at the 2021 British Book Awards, as well as being a finalist for over 20 other literary awards. His latest novel, Young Mungo, was an international bestseller and a finalist for the Carnegie Medal. His essays on gender, class and conformity have featured on Literary Hub and his short stories are published in the New Yorker.  He is currently working on adapting both of his novels for A24 pictures. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Stuart has a Masters from the Royal College of Art and since 2000, he has lived and worked in New York City.

Read More About Douglas Stuart

About the Book

Douglas Stuart’s first novel Shuggie Bain, winner of the 2020 Booker Prize, is one of the most successful literary debuts of the century so far. Published or forthcoming in forty territories, it has sold more than one million copies worldwide. Now Stuart returns with Young Mungo, his extraordinary second novel. Both a page-turner and literary tour de force, it is a vivid portrayal of working-class life and a deeply moving and highly suspenseful story of the dangerous first love of two young men.

Growing up in a housing estate in Glasgow, Mungo and James are born under different stars—Mungo a Protestant and James a Catholic—and they should be sworn enemies if they’re to be seen as men at all. Yet against all odds, they become best friends as they find a sanctuary in the pigeon dovecote that James has built for his prize racing birds. As they fall in love, they dream of finding somewhere they belong, while Mungo works hard to hide his true self from all those around him, especially from his big brother Hamish, a local gang leader with a brutal reputation to uphold. And when several months later Mungo’s mother sends him on a fishing trip to a loch in Western Scotland with two strange men whose drunken banter belies murky pasts, he will need to summon all his inner strength and courage to try to get back to a place of safety, a place where he and James might still have a future.

Imbuing the everyday world of its characters with rich lyricism and giving full voice to people rarely acknowledged in the literary world, Young Mungo is a gripping and revealing story about the bounds of masculinity, the divisions of sectarianism, the violence faced by many queer people, and the dangers of loving someone too much.


Praise for Young Mungo:

Shortlisted for the Polari Book Prize
Longlisted for the Dublin Literary Award
Longlisted for the Goldsboro Books Glass Bell Award
Named a Best Book of the Year by the Washington Post, NPR, Time, Kirkus Reviews, Guardian, Amazon, Apple, BookPage, BookBrowse, Library JournalReader’s Digest, AARP, Hudson Booksellers, Chicago Public Library, and the Times (UK)
An Amazon Best Book of the Year So Far (#15)
New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
Shortlisted for Scotland’s National Book Award

Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2022 by the New York Times, Time, Vogue, San Francisco Chronicle, Guardian, Entertainment Weekly, Irish Times, Kirkus Reviews, and Literary Hub

Young Mungo seals it: Douglas Stuart is a genius . . . A tale of romantic and sexual awakening punctuated by horrific violence. . . . The raw poetry of Stuart’s prose is perfect to catch the open spirit of this handsome boy . . . Stuart quickly proves himself an extraordinarily effective thriller writer. He’s capable of pulling the strings of suspense excruciatingly tight while still sensitively exploring the confused mind of this gentle adolescent trying to make sense of his sexuality . . . But even as Stuart draws these timelines together like a pair of scissors, he creates a little space for Mungo’s future, a little mercy for this buoyant young man.”—Ron Charles, Washington Post

“[A] bear hug of a new novel . . . It’s a classic Dickensian arc: The unwanted young lad, hoping for better things, is caught up in broader violent schemes and made to choose between the life he wants for himself and the one set out before him . . . But novelists have been flaccidly imitating the 19th century realists for so long that it’s a shock when one carries it out this successfully. Stuart oozes story. Mungo is alive. There is feeling under every word . . . This novel cuts you and then bandages you back up.”—Hillary Kelly, Los Angeles Times

“The working-class 1980s Glasgow of Douglas Stuart’s Booker Prize-winning debut Shuggie Bain is again the setting of his follow-up Young Mungo, and with it come the violence, religious tribalism, economic depression, diehard loyalties and fatalistic humor of the era, all expressed in the crooked poetry of Glaswegian dialect . . . The crafted storylines in Young Mungo develop with purpose and converge explosively, couching all the horror and pathos within a tighter, more gripping reading experience—an impressive advancement, in other words, from an already accomplished author.”—Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

“A nuanced and gorgeous heartbreaker of a novel . . . It’s a testament to Stuart’s unsparing powers as a storyteller that we can’t possibly anticipate how very badly—and baroquely—things will turn out. Young Mungo is a suspense story wrapped around a novel of acute psychological observation. It’s hard to imagine a more disquieting and powerful work of fiction will be published anytime soon about the perils of being different.”—Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s Fresh Air

Young Mungo bridges the worlds of Stuart’s earlier novel and stories . . . Stuart writes beautifully, with marvelous attunement to the poetry in the unlovely and the mundane . . . The novel conveys an enveloping sense of place, in part through the wit and musicality of its dialogue.”—Yen Pham, New York Times Book Review

Young Mungo is a finer novel than its predecessor, offering many of the same pleasures, but with a more sure-footed approach to narrative and a finer grasp of prose. There are sentences here that gleam and shimmer, demanding to be read and reread for their beauty and their truth . . . The way that Stuart builds towards exquisite set pieces, moments in time that take on an almost visionary aspect; the powerful and evocative descriptions of sex and nature in language that soars without ever feeling forced or purple; the manner in which he binds you into the lives of his characters, making even the most brutal and self-interested members of the family somehow not only forgivable, but lovable. I sobbed my way through Shuggie Bain and sobbed again as Young Mungo made its way towards an ending whose inevitability only serves to heighten its tragedy. If the first novel announced Stuart as a novelist of great promise, this confirms him as a prodigious talent.”—Alex Preston, Guardian

“When a romance develops between two teenage boys (one Protestant, one Catholic) in a Glasgow housing project, the danger of discovery is all too real. Like Shuggie Bain, the author’s acclaimed debut, this is a raw, tender and generous story of love and survival in tough circumstances.”—People

“Exhilarating, heartbreaking . . . The book shares a few similarities with Shuggie Bain, but Young Mungo is more brutal, more suspenseful . . . An edgy, relentless urgency. The language is gorgeous, poetic, expertly evoking the dour streets of Glasgow and its people . . . Stuart shows us so much ugliness, but he offers a promise of hope, too. This book will hurt your heart, so reach for that hope.”—Connie Ogle, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“The novels share a brutality and a squirmy, claustrophobic evocation of family life. And they offer a world of exquisite detail: If a perfume creator wished to bottle the olfactory landscape of post-Thatcher-era Glasgow, all the necessary ingredients could be found in Stuart’s descriptions of sausage grease, fruity fortified wine, pigeon droppings and store-bought hair bleach . . . There is crazy greatness in Young Mungo.”—Molly Young, New York Times

“A blazing marvel of storytelling, as strong and possibly stronger than his Booker Prize-winning debut . . . As affecting, original, and brilliantly written a novel as any we’ll see in 2022 . . . From political hostilities to personal anguish, Stuart harmonizes his notes, pitch-perfect . . . There’s jazz and bounce in his sentences—his cadences are rollicking, his dialogue often comic—but also a meticulous precision . . . I felt the same frisson as when I read works by other leading innovators, among them Kevin Barry, Hilary Mantel, Arundhati Roy, Ali Smith, and Colson Whitehead.”—Hamilton Cain, Oprah Daily

“An excoriating study of how violence begets violence, a devastating story of how the abused and victimized become abusers or aggressors . . . [Stuart’s] writing is so magnificent and his young hero so endearingly, vibrantly alive that we soldier on through Mungo’s saga of endurance, weepingly inspired like watchers of a war zone, aching to assuage the survivor’s ache, yearning to rescue him from the predations of his enemies, his vindictive older brother, and finally his own darker impulses.”—Priscilla Gilman, Boston Globe

“Across the 800 pages of his two novels, Stuart has been inking a great Hogarthian print, a postmodern Scottish Gin Lane. He can be sardonically funny but he always gets back to scaring the hell out of you and breaking your heart . . . There is right now no novelist writing more powerfully than Douglas Stuart. A strong measure of his success lies in how the reader, while appreciating the artistry of each harrowing scene, continually thinks: Please let it end.”—Thomas Mallon, Air Mail

“Page-turning, beautifully written . . . In a narrative that weaves seamlessly back and forth between the camping trip and Mungo’s life before the trip, Stuart creates a world we can almost feel.”—Deborah Dundas, Toronto Star

“Readers might fear that Stuart has written the same book a second time. In several obvious ways, that is true. But Stuart makes the small differences count, of which the most important is that Mungo is older than Shuggie, and beginning to see in his sexuality not just a source of difference and alienation but a possible route to escape and emancipation . . . The tension of the romance is expertly sustained, as is the sense of the real heroism of being a star-crossed lover in a Jets and Sharks world . . . The risk of sentimentality is always there, as it was in Shuggie Bain. But Young Mungo is a braver book, and more truthful, for his having taken that risk.”—Telegraph

“Richly abundant. It spills over with colourful characters and even more colourful insults. And like a Dickens novel it has a moral vision that’s expansive and serious while being savagely funny.”—Times (UK)

“Stuart’s deft, lyrical prose, and the flicker of hope that remains for Mungo, keep the reader turning the page.”—The Economist

“The Sighthill tenement where Shuggie Bain, Stuart’s Booker Prize–winning debut, unfurled is glimpsed in his follow-up, set in the 1990s in an adjacent neighborhood. You wouldn’t think you’d be eager to return to these harsh, impoverished environs, but again this author creates characters so vivid, dilemmas so heart-rending, and dialogue so brilliant that the whole thing sucks you in like a vacuum cleaner . . . Romantic, terrifying, brutal, tender, and, in the end, sneakily hopeful. What a writer.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“The astonishing sophomore effort from Booker Prize winner Stuart details a teen’s hard life in north Glasgow in the post-Thatcher years . . . Stuart’s writing is stellar . . . He’s too fine a storyteller to go for a sentimental ending, and the final act leaves the reader gutted. This is unbearably sad, more so because the reader comes to cherish the characters their creator has brought to life. It’s a sucker punch to the heart.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A searing, gorgeously written portrait of a young gay boy trying to be true to himself in a place and time that demands conformity to social and gender rules . . . Stuart’s tale could be set anywhere that poverty, socioeconomic inequality, or class struggles exist, which is nearly everywhere. But it is also about the narrowness and failure of vision in a place where individuals cannot imagine a better life, where people have never been outside their own neighborhood . . . Stuart’s prize-winning, best-selling debut, Shuggie Bain, ensures great enthusiasm for his second novel of young, dangerous love.”—Booklist (starred review)

“After the splendid Shuggie Bain, Stuart continues his examination of 1980s Glaswegian working-class life and a son’s attachment to an alcohol-ravaged mother, with results as good yet distinctly different . . . In language crisper and more direct than Shuggie Bain’s, if still spiked with startling similes, Stuart heightens his exploration of the sibling bond and the inexplicable hatred between Glasgow’s Protestants and Catholics, while contrasting Mungo’s tenderly conveyed queer awakening with the awful counterpart of sexual violence. Highly recommended.”—Library Journal (starred review)

“Readers will be happy to learn that Stuart’s follow-up, Young Mungo, is even stronger than his first book . . . A marvelous feat of storytelling, a mix of tender emotion and grisly violence that finds humanity in even the most fraught circumstances.”—BookPage (starred review)

“Stuart shines in familiar territory, writing profoundly about love, brutality, strength and courage.”—Newsweek

“Exploring themes of religious conflict, family tension, and the ever-present danger of attempting to live an authentic life, Stuart writes with the same power and economy of language he displayed in his debut. With characters that are exquisitely drawn and a story you won’t be able to put down, this love story goes far beyond the conventional romance.”—BuzzFeed

“Another triumph . . . With a gentleness that defies the hard-scrap poverty and social order around him, Mungo is a character you root for; Young Mungo feels both cinematic and so intimate you don’t want it to end.”—Amazon Book Review, “Editors’ Picks”

“Prepare your hearts, for Douglas Stuart is back. After the extraordinary success of Shuggie Bain, his second novel, Young Mungo, is another beautiful and moving book, a gay Romeo and Juliet set in the brutal world of Glasgow’s housing estates.”—Observer

“I wasn’t sure Young Mungo could live up to Shuggie Bain, but it surpasses it. Deeply harrowing but gently infused with hope and love. And so exquisitely written. It’s a joy to watch, in real time, as Douglas Stuart takes his place as one of the greats of Scottish literature.”—Nicola Sturgeon

“Few novels are as gutsy and gut-wrenching as Young Mungo in its depiction of a teenage boy who finds love amid family dysfunction, community conflict and the truly terrible predations of adults. Vividly realised and emotionally intense, this scorching novel is an urgent addition to the new canon of unsung stories.”—Bernardine Evaristo, Booker Prize-winning author of Girl, Woman, Other

“Some novels can be admired, others enjoyed. But it is a rare thing to find a story so engrossing, bittersweet and beautiful that you do not so much read it, as experience it. It is this quality Young Mungo possesses — an intense, lovely, brutal thing. Stuart is a masterful storyteller.”—Kiran Millwood Hargrave, author of The Mercies

Praise for Shuggie Bain:

New York Times Bestseller
Winner of the American Academy of Arts and Letters Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction
Named the Best Book of the Year at the British Book Awards 2021
Finalist for the National Book Award, the Kirkus Prize, the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize, the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel, the L.A. Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, and the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Fiction
Shortlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal, the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction, and the 2021 Rathbones Folio Prize
The Waterstones Scottish Book of the Year 2020
Shortlisted for the Books Are My Bag Breakthrough Author Award
Named a Best Book of the Year by the Los Angeles Times, NPR, TIMEBuzzFeed, the Economist, the Times (UK), the Independent (UK), the Daily Telegraph (UK), Barnes & Noble, Kirkus Reviews, the New York Public Library, the Chicago Public Library, and the Washington Independent Review of Books

“We were bowled over by this first novel, which creates an amazingly intimate, compassionate, gripping portrait of addiction, courage and love. The book gives a vivid glimpse of a marginalized, impoverished community in a bygone era of British history. It’s a desperately sad, almost-hopeful examination of family and the destructive powers of desire.”—Booker Prize Judges

“This year’s breakout debut . . . It has drawn comparisons to D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce, and Frank McCourt.”—Alexandra Alter, New York Times

“I’m really, really stunned by it. It’s so good. I think it’s the best first book I’ve read in many years . . . It’s a heartbreaking story, and quite hard to read at times, but it’s almost like it’s uplifting on behalf of literature. And it’s written with great warmth and compassion for the characters.”—Karl Ove Knausgaard, Guardian

“The body—especially the body in pain—blazes on the pages of Shuggie Bain . . . This is the world of Shuggie Bain, a little boy growing up in Glasgow in the 1980s. And this is the world of Agnes Bain, his glamorous, calamitous mother, drinking herself ever so slowly to death. The wonder is how crazily, improbably alive it all is . . . The book would be just about unbearable were it not for the author’s astonishing capacity for love. He’s lovely, Douglas Stuart, fierce and loving and lovely. He shows us lots of monstrous behavior, but not a single monster—only damage. If he has a sharp eye for brokenness, he is even keener on the inextinguishable flicker of love that remains . . . The book leaves us gutted and marveling: Life may be short, but it takes forever.”—Leah Hager Cohen, New York Times Book Review

“A debut novel that reads like a masterpiece.”—Bethanne Patrick, Washington Post

“A novel that cracks open the human heart, brings you inside, tears you up, and brings you up, with its episodes of unvarnished love, loss, survival and sorrow.”—Scott Simon, NPR’s “Weekend Edition”

“Agnes Bain [is] the unforgettable human train wreck at the center of Douglas Stuart’s novel Shuggie Bain . . . Titling the novel after Shuggie rather than the woman who dominates him seems like a small gesture of defiance on Mr. Stuart’s part . . . Mr. Stuart vividly inhabits the city’s singular ‘Weegie’ dialect and vocabulary . . . It’s the obstinate Bain pride that prevents this novel from becoming a wallow in victimhood and gives it its ruined dignity.”—Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

“The domestic spaces, the blighted landscape, the meanness of people, the bullying at school, the constant threat of violence, all add up to a picture of misery. Against this, however, there is an undercurrent that becomes more and more powerful, as Stuart, with great subtlety, builds up an aura of tenderness in the relationship between helpless Shuggie and his even more helpless mother . . . By drawing Agnes and Shuggie with so much texture, he makes clear that neither mother nor son can be easily seen as a victim. Instead, they emerge forcefully; they are fully, palpably present.”—Colm Tóibín, Bookforum

“Astonishingly good, one of the most moving novels in recent memory.”—Hillary Kelly, Los Angeles Times

“The tough portraits of Glaswegian working-class life from William McIlvanney, James Kelman, Alasdair Gray, and Agnes Owens can be felt in Shuggie Bain without either overshadowing or unbalancing the novel . . . Stuart’s capacity for allowing wild contradictions to convincingly coexist is also on display in the individual vignettes that comprise the novel, blending the tragic with the funny, the unsparing with the tender, the compassionate with the excruciating. He can even pull off all of them in a single sentence . . . This overwhelmingly vivid novel is not just an accomplished debut. It also feels like a moving act of filial reverence.”—James Walton, New York Review of Books

“Rarely does a debut novel establish its world with such sure-footedness, and Stuart’s prose is lithe, lyrical, and full of revelatory descriptive insights . . . Reading Shuggie Bain entails a kind of archaeology, sifting through the rubble of the lives presented to find gems of consolation, brief sublime moments when the characters slip the bonds of their hardscrabble existence. That the book is never dismal or maudlin, notwithstanding its subject matter, is down to the buoyant life of its two principal characters, the heart and humanity with which they are described. Douglas Stuart has written a first novel of rare and lasting beauty.”—Alex Preston, Guardian

“Douglas Stuart drags us through the 1980s childhood of ‘a soft boy in a hard world’ in a series of vivid, effective scenes . . . Shuggie Bain is a novel that aims for the heart and finds it. As a novel it’s good, as a debut very good, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it progress from Booker longlist to shortlist.”—John Self, Times (UK)

“Not only does [Stuart] clearly know his characters, he clearly loves them . . . Stuart describes their life with compassion and a keen ear for language . . . Such is Stuart’s talent that this painful, sometimes excruciating story is often quite beautiful.”—Barbara Lane, San Francisco Chronicle

Shuggie Bain is Douglas Stuart’s first novel, as intense and excruciating to read as any novel I have ever held in my hand . . . This novel is as much about Glasgow as it is about Shuggie and his impossible mother . . . The book’s evocative power arises out of the author’s talent for conjuring a place, a time, and the texture of emotion, and out of its language which is strewn with a Glaswegian argot sodden with desolation and misery . . . This is a hard, grim book, brilliantly written and, in the end, worth the pain which accompanies reading it.”—Katherine A. Powers, Newsday

“With his exquisitely detailed debut novel, Douglas Stuart has given Glasgow something of what James Joyce gave to Dublin. Every city needs a book like Shuggie Bain, one where the powers of description are so strong you can almost smell the chip-fat and pub-smoke steaming from its pages, and hear the particular, localized slang ringing in your ears . . . It turns over the ugly side of humanity to find the softness and the beauty underneath . . . This beauty, against all odds, survives.”—Eliza Gearty, Jacobin

“An atmospheric epic set in 1980s working-class Glasgow, Shuggie Bain, a debut novel by Douglas Stuart, focuses on the relationship between a mother and son as she battles alcoholism and he grapples with his sexuality. It’s a formidable story, lyrically told, about intimacy, family, and love.”Elle

“A dysfunctional love story—an interdependence whose every attempt to thrive is poisoned whenever a drink is poured—but here, between a boy and his mother. Stuart’s debut stands out for its immersion into working-class Glaswegian life, but what makes his book a worthy contender for the Booker is his portrayal of their bond, together with all its perpetual damage.”—Maria Crawford, Financial Times

“Magnificent . . . Its richly rendered events will give you a lot to talk about.”O Magazine

“This is a panoramic portrait of both a family and a place, and Stuart steeps us fully in the grim decline of the Thatcher years: cheap booze, closed pits and lives lived on tick . . . Tender and unsentimental—a rare trick—and the Billy Elliot-ish character of Shuggie, when he does take the floor, leaps off the page.”—Stephanie Cross, Daily Mail

“Terrifically engrossing . . . A cracking coming-of-age story—a survivor’s tale you won’t be able to put down.”—Anthony Cummins, Metro

“A heartbreaking story about identity, addiction, and abandonment.”TIME

“An instant classic. A novel that takes place during the Thatcher years and, in a way, defines it. A novel that explores the underbelly of Scottish society. A novel that digs through the grit and grime of 1980s Glasgow to reveal a story that is at once touching and gripping. Think D.H. Lawrence. Think James Joyce . . . A literary tour de force.”Washington Independent Review of Books

“Douglas’s sharp narrative perspective moves from character to character, depicting each internally and externally with astute grace, giving a complex understanding of the dynamics of the Bain family . . . Shuggie Bain is a master class in depicting the blinding dedications of love and the endless bounds to which people will go to feel in control, to feel better. It hopefully sets the tone for more beautifully devastating works of fiction to follow from Stuart in the future.”Columbia Journal

“Heartfelt and harrowing . . . [A] visceral, emotionally nuanced portrayal of working class Scottish life and its blazingly intimate exploration of a mother-son relationship.”Literary Hub

“The way Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting carved a permanent place in our heads and hearts for the junkies of late-1980s Edinburgh, the language, imagery, and story of fashion designer Stuart’s debut novel apotheosizes the life of the Bain family of Glasgow . . . The emotional truth embodied here will crack you open. You will never forget Shuggie Bain. Scene by scene, this book is a masterpiece.”Kirkus Review (starred review)

“Compulsively readable . . . In exquisite detail, the book describes the devastating dysfunction in Shuggie’s family, centering on his mother’s alcoholism and his father’s infidelities, which are skillfully related from a child’s viewpoint . . . As it beautifully and shockingly illustrates how Shuggie ends up alone, this novel offers a testament to the indomitable human spirit. Very highly recommended.”Library Journal (starred review)

“Douglas Stuart’s anxious novel is both a tragedy and a survival story. Shuggie is as neglected as Glasgow, but through his mother’s demise, he discovers his strength. Shuggie Bain celebrates taking charge of one’s own destiny.”Bookpage

“Stuart’s harrowing debut follows a family ravaged by addiction in Glasgow during the Thatcher era . . . There are flashes of deep feeling that cut through the darkness . . . Will resonate with readers.”Publishers Weekly

“There’s no way to fake the life experience that forms the bedrock of Douglas Stuart’s wonderful Shuggie Bain. No way to fake the talent either. Shuggie will knock you sideways.”—Richard Russo, author of Chances Are

“Every now and then a novel comes along that feels necessary and inevitable. I’ll never forget Shuggie and Agnes or the incredibly detailed Glasgow they inhabit. This is the rare contemporary novel that reads like an instant classic. I’ll be thinking and talking about Shuggie Bain—and teaching it—for quite some time.”—Garrard Conley, New York Times-bestselling author of Boy Erased

“A rare and haunting ode to 1980s Glasgow and its struggling communities, Shuggie Bain tells the story of a collapsing family that is lashed together by love alone. Douglas Stuart writes with startling, searing intimacy. I fell hard for these characters; when they have nothing left, they cling maddeningly—irresistibly—to humor, pride and hope.”—Chia-Chia Lin, author of The Unpassing

Shuggie Bain is an intimate and frighteningly acute exploration of a mother-son relationship and a masterful portrait of alcoholism in Scottish working class life, rendered with old-school lyrical realism. Stuart is a writer who genuinely loves his characters and makes them unforgettable and touching even when they’re at their worst. He’s also just a beautiful writer; I kept being reminded of Joyce’s Dubliners. I loved this book.”—Sandra Newman, author of The Heavens

“A dark shining work. Raw, formidable, bursting with tenderness and frailty. The effect is remarkable, it will make you cry.”—Karl Geary, author of Montpelier Parade

For Reading Groups and Book Clubs

Download as a PDF

Reading Group Guide by Paula Cooper Hughes:

1. The novel takes place on two distinct time lines, and the painful connection between the two eventually becomes clear. How did you experience the repeated shifts between these two settings—Mungo, Gallowgate, and St Christopher at the loch, and Mungo, James, and the Hamilton family in Glasgow? How did you interpret the overlapping of the novel’s two basic genres: a thriller tinged with violent horror and a queer romance?

2. The author communicates a great deal about the characters through their physical idiosyncrasies: Jodie with her “Haaah-ha” and Mungo with his facial tics and compulsive picking, as well as the body language of other characters toward him. Yet Mungo so often misses the meaning in other people’s words. To what degree do you think a queer boy’s survival in a homophobic atmosphere depends on his ability to read body language over spoken word? Does Mungo’s ability to find love also depend on it? Don’t we all have nervous behaviors and tics that reveal things about us?

3. The characters Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, made famous by Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson, speak to the presence of good and evil in all of us, indeed to the drive to distance ourselves from our dark sides by naming them—by making them—“other.” At age eight, Jodie conjures the name Tattie-bogle for Mo-Maw’s dark side. Does naming our dark sides help rob them of power? Is there a point—as in Jekyll and Hyde—when this coping mechanism loses its power? If that point comes for Tattie-bogle, when?

4. As a queer young man in a tough Glaswegian scheme with a baked-in allegiance to a violent brother, Mungo has no safe means to express himself and nobody he can trust. He is ever the glaring outsider. How do you think that plays into his decision to band together with Hamish in the brawl with the Catholics that even Jodie insists he join? What about his risky acquaintance with Chickie Calhoun, whom the boys of the scheme consider “sub-human, sub-them” (p. 140)?

5. Mungo, Jodie, and Hamish are each hyperaware of the limitations that poverty puts upon their lives, and they each make choices according to these limitations. Yet as the novel unfolds, Mungo in particular sees other possible lives for himself as he is exposed to the world beyond his specific housing scheme and to the many layers of Glasgow, a city with immense beauty and diversity. How does his understanding of his family’s poverty affect how he sees and experiences the city where he lives? Have you had similar experiences of limitation regarding your own hometown or region?

6. When Mungo visits James’s flat the first time, he notices a collection of palm leaves twisted into crucifixes on the dining room wall and startles at the revelation that James is a Catholic—the Capulet to Mungo’s Montague, with James’s Catholicism yet another obstacle to their becoming friends, let alone lovers. When the electricity between them shifts to Mungo quietly comforting James in his grief that first night, how did you read it?

7. “Fifteen years [Mungo] had lived and breathed in Scotland, and he had never seen a glen, a loch, a forest, or a ruined castle . . . how could he stay on the scheme and not try to go beyond it?” (p. 155). Mungo’s initial rapture in the country is contagious, but after everything that happens to him, do you think he will ever be able to recapture this sense of wonder and beauty?

8. The day Mr Campbell assaults Mrs Campbell, Jodie is eager to rebuke Mr Campbell for his abuse over a sore football loss. Yet Annie refuses her interpretation: “Ye’re too wee to know anything about men and their anger” (p. 167). Is there something about the years of experience and breadth of compassion that Mrs Campbell brings to her situation that rings true? Have you ever tried to explain a morally wrong but complex situation to someone younger or more naive and faced a similar reaction? Have you excused inexcusable behavior out of compassion for someone you love?

9. Consider James and his doocot, and how the two might resemble one another, whether in strength, solitariness, or hidden yet compartmentalized beauty. The indigenous Glaswegian sport of doo fleein’ is also distinctly masculine in many ways, although it also relies on elements of caretaking and tenderness. How does the doocot represent certain aspects of James and his relationship with Mungo?

10. When Mungo tells Jodie that Mr Gillespie has run away, “Jodie felt the floor tilt underneath her. Like a gable end slated for demolition, the front facade of her fell away and the private contents of her life rolled out” (p. 189). Here, the author conjures the ruins of a natural disaster or bombing—a dwelling shorn of its exterior walls and the combined shame of both peering inside and of being exposed. How did you react to the unraveling of Jodie’s seemingly unshakable belief in herself?

11. Hamish gets the occasional bold redemption scene in Young Mungo, such as when he brains the cop with a brick at the builder’s yard to save Mungo and when he stands in for Mungo at the end of the novel, or when he pays off Mo-Maw’s Provvie loans with the money he makes selling drugs to the unsuspecting “freshers” at Glasgow University. Do these moments go far enough to convey a softer side of him?

12. Stuart weaves the stories and legends of saints throughout Young Mungo, first with Mungo himself, and later with St Christopher. Saint Mungo is the much beloved founder of Glasgow, whose motto “Let Glasgow Flourish” is written on the city’s coat of arms. His miracles are memorialized into a poem:

Here is the tree that never grew,
Here is the bird that never flew,
Here is the fish that never swam,
Here is the bell that never rang.

Meanwhile, the original legend of Saint Christopher states that he was devoted to transporting the weak and poor across a river. Once, he was carrying a child that became increasingly heavy. The child then revealed that he was Christ and thus the saint was bearing the weight of the world. How do these legends shed light on or complicate St Christopher’s fate at the hands of Mungo, whose bearing throughout the novel might even be said to be Christlike? Where else do you see inspiration from stories of the saints within the novel?

13. Poor-Wee-Chickie turns out to be a bit of an unsung hero and muse to Mungo. What are your favorite moments of his? Were you surprised that he challenged Mr Campbell the night he assaulted Annie? How did you interpret the gift of slate for James’s doocot roof? How did your impression of Chickie evolve as we discovered more about him?

14. Mungo’s physical relationship with James develops almost painfully slowly—every gesture “furtive and fleeting.” When finally Mungo kisses James on the lips, “It was like hot buttered toast when you were starving. It was that good” (p. 228). Likewise, biking back to their housing scheme, Mungo allows his thumbs to creep under James’s sweater, brushing his skin: “It was a nothing that felt like an everything” (p. 236). Is it a relief when they finally come together? Or are you gripped with fear for them? What’s your “nothing that felt like an everything”?

15. How did you feel when Jodie didn’t support Mungo after he came out to her? Did your feelings change when you discovered she’d reached out to James while Mungo was at the loch? Have you ever recovered from a negative knee-jerk reaction to something that was considered taboo, then come to understand it differently and regard it with more compassion?

16. The rain, the dreich, the smirr, all manner of damp conditions saturate the narrative in Young Mungo, and the soddenness of Glasgow underpins almost every scene. If this story took place somewhere sunny and dry, would it feel the same? Would it be the same?

17. Mo-Maw is a vexing character from beginning to end in Young Mungo. Like Mungo, we hold out hope that she will soften, grow, and do the right thing. In reading the book, did you eventually come to think of her as unforgivable, as Jodie did? Or like Mungo, with his seemingly bottomless capacity to love, did you believe she might become the kind of mother he longed for? What unique challenges does Maureen face as a single mother in a male-dominated world whose traditional social constructs have fallen apart?

18. Consider the end of the novel. Hamish steps in for Mungo with the polis, and while it seems clear to them that he is not the right brother, they quietly acquiesce. Do you think justice is being served? Is this Hamish’s moment of reckoning? Do you think James and Mungo end up together?