The gist: Remember Matthew Shepard? Shine is like that but Southerny-er and wrapped around a mystery.
Author: Lauren Myracle
Genre: Young adult, realistic fiction
Initial attraction: First Lauren Myracle pwnd that annoying chick from Wall Street Journal and then got burned by the National Book Awards which propelled my interest in the book into a burning desire to read it right this minute.
Cover art: Love it! The dry southern landscape with a single blooming flower is gorgeous but also symbolic of the feeling of the story contained within. The entire book design is really eye-catching from the matte black end-papers to the illustrated chapter titles and the iconic branch silhouettes throughout the book. It is an aesthetically pleasing read.
Summary: A boy beaten, bound, and left for dead, words of hate scrawled across his chest…
A girl shrinking from life, enslaved by a shameful secret…
A tight-knit Southern community riddled by poverty, clannishness, drugs, and intolerance…
When Patrick is found near death, strung to the pump of the local gas station, sixteen-year-old Cat emerges from her self-imposed exile to avenge the horrors inflicted on her former best friend. The local sheriff is ready to pin the crime on gay-bashing out-of-town-ers, but Cat’s suspicions lie elsewhere. Despite ominous warnings to leave it be, Cat finds the will – fueled by fury born of an old injustice – to expose the homegrown hatred that gave rise to Patrick’s attack.
Bestselling author Myracle has crafted a hypnotic mystery, steeped in a sense of place, that is also a searing coming-of-age story: an exploration of loss, guilt, and fear fused inseparably with a tale of courage, resiliency, and love.
The best part: The characters are portrayed in flashbacks that are reminiscent of a series of vignettes but are punctuated by Cat’s real-time investigation. The stark contrast between her memories and the reality that has emerged during her seclusion almost make her an unreliable narrator but also amplify the personal growth of her own character arc.
The worst part: Everyone in this town has a sob story which makes it rather depressing. I mean, it was pretty clear from the summary that the story was going to deal with some very traumatic themes that aren’t going to leave one with happy fluffy bunny feelings but I found it unrealistic that every single person in this town had a Serious Issue. It would have been very easy for this to slip into a Problem Novel but it never quite did.
Characters: I enjoyed how Cat held herself separate for many years and mostly lived in her own head. Her reintegration into society was propelled solely by her love for her hospitalized best friend and watching her re-meet the people she once knew so well was much more interesting and unique than the overdone new kid in a new town cliché. I was irritated with how her own trauma was dragged out and presented as a mystery because it wasn’t particularly mysterious, however I basically overlooked that because her uncovering of everyone else’s brokenness held my interest.
Plot: The main mystery of who beat Patrick certainly held my attention, but I guessed the guilty party kind of early which annoyed me because there wasn’t a tremendous amount of foreshadowing to actually go on with that. Within the main plot there were several other mysteries Cat was trying to unravel because she was really kind of oblivious to everything going on around her other than her own trauma. Above all that though is the fact that the story is about the insidious way that hate and bigotry works its way into lives and the damage that bullying can do and what kind of horrors it can lead to if left unchecked, and that makes this book more than just a touching read but also an important read in these times when bullying is a hot-button issue. Myracle handles the subject delicately in a way that is touching and emotionally moving.
Setting: The book is set in current times but it felt older to me because the area is so rural and poor that it felt like it was from my youth, like before cell phones and internet so every time modern conveniences popped up I was a little jarred. It felt very realistically southern though, the details like how to snap green beans and how tomatoes are the awesomest thing ever (Myracle may not have actually said that explicitly, I may have just inserted that fact as inalienable truth) and other little details made it feel like the stories other generations told me about growing up down south.
Writing style: Myracle chose a straightforward first person style that captured the slow southern drawl and set the perfect tone to tell this story. It’s very different from her other work that I read which was Let It Snow (co-written with John Green and Maureen Johnson) but the style made it easy to fall into the pace of the story. What really impressed me was the way that little details were vividly described with unique comparisons and worked seamlessly into the narrative. Descriptions like green the shade of sunlight through a bottle or a character’s chapped lips make the imagery pop out while at the same time blending into the story.
In which I babble: Throughout the book I was constantly reminded of Matthew Shepard and kept listening to the tribute song Scarecrow by Melissa Etheridge. It’s a good song for the book. Also, It Gets Better is a project aimed at showing LGBTQOMGWTFBBQ teens that life gets better after high school and it’s aimed at suicide prevention. Arguably this is a message worth repeating to every teen everywhere of every orientation because high school sucks for everyone and no one deserves to be bullied. And if you are being bullied you should tell me (or anyone who cares about you, seriously tell someone) and I will come over and punch them in the head for you and then tell you how awesome you are. Head-punching and ego-fluffing are just some of the many services we offer here at Casa Cassandra.
Quotes: “I opened my mouth, then shut it, unsure where the truth lay. I didn’t like being alone. Being alone was slightly better than having to deal with people, that’s all.”
“Myracle, however, looks those truths square in the eye, revealing the small minds that occupy this tiny, impoverished town and its inhabitants’ motivations. Although Cat is the narrator, she isn’t the one who’s talking trash. She’s merely relaying what she’s seen and heard. Her narrative is otherwise intelligent and emotionally evolved as she gathers knowledge about Patrick’s beating.” – Susan Carpenter | Los Angeles Times
“The character work in this book is astounding. Layered, complex, and flawed human beings populate Cat’s small town from top to bottom, including Cat herself. Cat’s two years of hiding away from everything and everyone give this story an absolutely wrenching and fascinating perspective – as she investigates, Cat is dealing with people she knows, people she grew up with, and yet after two years away, Cat is now seeing them with new eyes, and her childhood understanding of who these people are crumbles before her. Myracle shows us the facades, through Cat’s memories, and then takes us beneath them – plumbing the strange and unsettling depths of who these people actually are.” – Bookyurt
You might also like: Alabama Moon by Watt Key is realistic fiction with a strong sense of place and setting and a main character who holds himself distant from everyone. The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson is a lighter, happier read dealing with sexuality.
Additional books by author: A complete list of Myracle’s books can be found here.
Publisher: Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams
Release date: May 2011
Purchase the book here.