When Things Get Real in West Virginia

a graphic of the cover of Shae by Mesha Maren

Shae by Mesha Maren

West Virginia writer Mesha Maren is back with her third novel, Shae, which follows a teenage girl in rural West Virginia. When Shae meets Cam, she’s not sure what to expect. But when Cam comes to hang out at her house, they listen to music and talk about everything and nothing. Shae realizes that Cam is somehow filling a gap in her that she didn’t know she had.

Shae and Cam fall in love, and Shae gets pregnant. They are both so excited to be parents, but there are so many things left unsaid between them. When Cam comes out as a trans woman, Shae wonders how she could have missed it. How could the person she loves most hide something so integral to their life? During a surprise C-section, the doctor nicks her bladder. The doctor gives Shae pain medication to cope, but soon, she can’t function without it.

Shae reads like a character study. It’s a long look at the world from Shae’s perspective. We see when she shies away from the truth about Cam’s gender identity. We notice as she lies to everyone — including herself — about her addiction. From the first few pages, Shae tells us that she and Cam remember their first meeting differently. We know from the outset that she understands, in some ways, that she’s an unreliable narrator.

Shae’s story is a portrait of one West Virginian just living her life. She’s not thinking of her every day as part of a larger picture of Appalachia or the opioid crisis. She’s looking for love and connection where she can find it and just trying to live her life day to day. Full of heart and the ache that comes from growing up far too fast, Shae is a novel that will linger in your mind long after you’ve finished it.

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