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I received a copy of Mea­gan Lucas’ Song­birds and Stray Dogs for review pur­pos­es. As always, this review reflects only my hon­est thoughts on the book.

 width=Songbirds and Stray Dogs
by Meagan Lucas

Pub­li­ca­tion Date: August 2019

Genre: Fic­tion



In Song­birds and Stray Dogs, Jolene has been aban­doned by her addict moth­er on the steps of her spin­ster aunt’s door at eight years old. She’s spent the last thir­teen years liv­ing in the shad­ow of the pain her moth­er caused and try­ing to prove her­self wor­thy of her aunt’s stingy love. Unin­ten­tion­al­ly she becomes preg­nant. When the father refus­es her and her aunt kicks her out, Jolene tries to out­run her shame by head­ing to the moun­tains. Home­less, pen­ni­less, alone, and chased by demons from her past, she makes friends who help and hin­der. She is forced to con­front exact­ly who she is, what she wants, and what she is will­ing to do to get it.

Geog­ra­phy and a sense of place are cen­tral to Song­birds and Stray Dogs. It is a South­ern sto­ry, born of sweet tea and the Bible Belt, chow-chow and corn­bread, shot guns and porch rock­ing. But it is also a uni­ver­sal sto­ry of escap­ing the bur­den of your past and find­ing your­self at home in a strange land.

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My Review

When I received a gal­ley of Meagan Lucas’ Songbirds and Stray Dogs, I did­n’t know much about what I was get­ting myself into. I’d read (and enjoyed!) a bit of Meagan’s work pre­vi­ous­ly, and knew her from her work with Bar­ren Mag­a­zine. With that lim­it­ed context, I was pret­ty con­fi­dent I’d enjoy her debut nov­el; by no means did I sus­pect the intense emo­tions that came with it. 

Songbirds and Stray Dogs fol­lows Jolene, a 21-year-old new­ly preg­nant woman whose life has come crash­ing down around it, and with it, any sem­blance of an inno­cent child­hood she had left. Her moth­er, an addict, left her with her Aunt Rachel as a young girl and forced her to grow up quick­ly as she strove to impress her aunt and avoid fol­low­ing in her moth­er’s foot­steps. And yet .…

I was ini­tial­ly a bit tak­en aback by the first chap­ter in Chuck­’s point of view, that of a male char­ac­ter in what had focused thus far on a distinct wom­an­ly per­spec­tive through Jolene and her life with Aunt Rachel and the baby grow­ing inside of her. But as he inter­act­ed with his nephew, Cash, I found myself just as deeply invest­ed in his sto­ry as I was Jolene’s. 

That is by far one of this book’s best qual­i­ties: its char­ac­ters. Those you’re meant to care about are won­der­ful­ly brought to life.While antag­o­nists are vivid, they’re nev­er giv­en the allu­sion of being worth that same lev­el of per­son­al invest­ment on the part of the read­er. They don’t come across as flat, black-and-white “bad guys;” rather, the neg­a­tivity sur­round­ing them firm­ly cements the reader in Jolene and Chuck­’s mindsets–on their side, so to speak–without breaking the third-per­son narration. 

Sim­i­lar­ly, the book left me wanti­ng more on not only its primary cast, but about those who sur­round them. As I closed the book, I realised just how bad­ly I want­ed-no, need­ed-backsto­ry, sequels, anything I could get my hands on to experience a lit­tle more of these amaz­ing charac­ters

In every­thing I’ve seen about this book so far, the impor­tance of set­ting has been men­tioned, and for good rea­son. I’ve spent painfully lit­tle time in the Amer­ican South first­hand, but I’ve been close enough to Southern friends and the Mason-Dixon line to get a sol­id appre­ci­a­tion for sweet tea. And from what I do know, I can tell you that Mea­gan Lucas absolute­ly nails it in this nov­el. I read Songbirds and Stray Dogs with my mind in an instinc­tu­al drawl (fun fact: I actu­al­ly picked up a hint of one dur­ing a job in col­lege!).

I tru­ly can­not recom­mend this book enough, and I’ve already insist­ed my mom read it as soon as pos­si­ble so I can dis­cuss it with some­one besides this review. I won’t give away any spoil­ers, but the end­ing? Do your­self a favour and pick up a copy to enjoy Song­birds and Stray Dogs for your­self.

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About the Author

Mea­gan Lucas is orig­i­nal­ly from St. Joseph Island, Ontario, but now lives in the moun­tains of West­ern North Car­oli­na with her hus­band and two chil­dren. She teach­es Eng­lish Com­po­si­tion at Asheville-Bun­combe Tech­ni­cal Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege, and is the Fic­tion Edi­tor at Bar­ren Mag­a­zine. For fun: she haunts book­stores, walks beach­es, mur­ders house­plants slow­ly, and reads.

Meagan’s recent short fic­tion appears in: The San­ta Fe Writer’s Project, The New South­ern Fugi­tives, Still: The Jour­nal, and The Blue Moun­tain Review. She won the 2017 Scythe Prize for fic­tion and has been nom­i­nat­ed for the Push­cart Prize. Song­birds and Stray Dogs is her first novel.

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