The Strays invites readers into a world that is by turns disturbing and magical ... Word pictures which elevate the ordinary to exquisite appear throughout Bitto's novel, appropriate to a book that focuses so much on the glory of art ... With precise and graceful turns of phrase, Bitto reveals the bond of passion between the two girls, which seems unbreakable but inevitably snaps under all that can't be said. And she delivers all of this with a grace and eloquence which rival that of the young friends' bond.
...[a] remarkable first novel ... Bitto’s scenes of the Trentham commune are vividly written, almost painterly ... Methodically, a sense of impending catastrophe is woven into the narrative, making it seem inevitable, given the egos of the painters and their deliberate disruptions. Bitto focuses most intently on the women of the commune, noting how they’re sidelined by their male peers and, ultimately, by history ... Late in the novel, when Lily — now middle-aged and a mother herself — is pulled once again into Eva’s orbit, the story loses some of its power. The grown-up Lily is less compelling as an interpreter of her own 'ordinary life' than she is as a youthful observer of the glamorous debauchery of the Trenthams and their acolytes.
Eva’s sovereign streak and an Arya Stark tomboyishness and disregard for authority gives The Strays its gripping tension and vitality. Her openly-voiced resentment towards her parents is a refreshing edge to Bitto’s convivial bohemian narrative. She is the most complex of all the novel’s characters, and her journey through adolescence is told with impressive intensity ... Through her tale of a small artistic community more than 80 years ago, Bitto looks closely at the demise of family and the impact of loss. This story of bohemian living is about more than champagne and cigars; the strong bonds, bleak outcomes and moral struggles of its central female characters give The Strays its substance.