Young Mungo is the second novel by Douglas Stuart, who wrote Shuggie Bain. Shuggie Bain was my favourite read of last year, so I was very keen to read Young Mungo. Luckily, Sainsbury’s had it in stock. I won’t buy full-price hardbacks, but Sainsbury’s stocks a few bestsellers at around half price.
Spoiler alert: Young Mungo is A LOT like Shuggie Bain. Like Shuggie, Mungo is growing up in 1980s Glasgow in extreme poverty with an alcoholic mother. It is every bit as disturbing as Shuggie Bain, possibly even more so.
Mungo is 15 and the youngest of three children born to a teenage mother. His mum (Mo-Maw) spends long periods away from home and he is raised by his sister, Jodie, despite the fact that she is only a year older than him. His brother, Hamish (Ha-Ha) is a big local gang leader who hits first and asks questions later.
Told entirely from Mungo’s point of view, the story begins with Mo-Maw waving Mungo off on a fishing trip. It soon becomes clear that the trip is with two strangers and has been arranged by Mo-Maw to ‘make a man’ of Mungo.
The story then goes back in time by a few months to the tough reality of Mungo’s day-to-day life. It is a world where boys are expected to fight, girls get pregnant at 15 and kindly neighbours feed hungry teenagers.
Young Mungo is a story about forbidden love. Mungo falls in love with James, not only another boy, but a Catholic. For a brief period of time, James gives Mungo a happiness he’s never had before. But being gay is ‘unnatural’ and Mungo’s family are Protestant and can have nothing to do with Catholics. Ha-Ha leads a big attack on the local Catholics and Mungo has no choice but to go along, even though it will almost certainly mean losing James.
The present day story is interspersed with the story of the fishing trip. The fishing trip is particularly disturbing. Mungo has no idea where he is and can’t understand why he has been sent away with these two strange men.
Young Mungo is another fantastic novel from Douglas Stuart, although I didn’t love it quite as much as Shuggie Bain. Be warned – it is a tough read. If you can cope with reading about prejudice, violence and abuse, I’m sure you will enjoy it. But if that’s not your cup of tea, it’s probably best to steer clear of it!