Friday, April 13, 2012


Shine, by Lauren Myracle

Such a beautiful cover, and such a furore over this book. If you haven't heard, Shine was announced as a finalist for the National Book Awards ...but oops...the National Book Foundation staff misheard the name of the nominee. It was actually meant to be Chime by Franny Billingsley. The judges didn't catch the mistake until they heard the nominees being announced over the radio! Sorry, Ms. Myracle. Hope you'll forgive us! Oh my...what a debacle. Lauren Myracle handled the situation with professionalism and grace. Mike went out to purchase this book in support.

Because of that silly fuss and bother and also what I had read about the story, I was looking forward to diving into this book. It opens with a newspaper article: Patrick, former best friend of protagonist Cat Robinson, is in a coma after being attacked with a baseball bat and left for dead with a gas nozzle taped to his mouth. Cat, who had become an extreme introvert after a traumatic incident and shut all her friends out of her life, decides to find out who is responsible.

The book starts out reasonably enough...Myracle paints the deep poverty, ignorance, and malaise in a North Carolina backwoods town with vivid imagery and words. Soon Cat discovers secrets in her midst, such as heavy meth use all around her. Partly because of her own severe guilt for abandoning Patrick as a friend three years before, she wrecklessly dives into probing conversations with people in the town because law enforcement is inept and doesn't appear to be investigating the crime.

Unfortunately, the follow-through of the story could have been better. Many of the characters are one-dimensional stereotypes, and I found it difficult to imagine so many people looking the other way during Cat's own traumatic incident (notably her aunt and brother). I also found it implausible that Cat wouldn't have more knowledge of the drug use in her midst. And the police officers made absolutely no attempt to investigate the crime? None at all? Was that supposed to be because Patrick was gay?

And although Cat does experience a traumatic and horrific incident as a 13-year-old, it seemed strange to me that she would completely cut off contact from her friends and family, especially Patrick. I also found it implausible that suddenly Tommy turns over a new leaf and tries to make amends.

The story with Jason seemed thrown in there for a romance element, and it didn't quite fit. Also, for him to call Cat such a horrific name in the beginning...and then for him to turn out to be a good guy...didn't seem real.

The mystery doesn't turn out to be much of a mystery, either--the reader is able to see the resolution from a mile off. I didn't like the way the story resolves...and it didn't make much sense to me that Patrick's lover would attack him in such a way, even strung out on meth. But hey, I've never used meth so what do I know what it causes you to do?

Finally, once several people know who attacked Patrick, Cat and others (including Patrick, who wakes up in the end) conspire to keep it a secret from the authorities. And for what reason, exactly? That doesn't make any sense to me. (Would Robert really be able to keep such a secret, after he can't keep anything else secret??)

Of course, Patrick wakes up in the end and he's completely coherent and Cat explains everything that's happened in 1 minute before the nurses come rushing in. Everything's tied up in neat little packages. Because of Cat's decision not to share who was responsible, the town can continue to wallow in its insular bigotry, blaming the crime on out-of-towners and conveniently ignoring the rampant drug use among the town's young people.

Another concern I have is the major typos I found sprinkled throughout the novel...tales vs. tails, here vs. her, and a name incorrectly used a couple of times (Lawson vs. Larson). Sloppy!

I'm sure that Myracle intended one of the book's messages to be the importance of shining your light and doing the right thing in spite of your fears...but what kind of message does it send to young people when over and over again, people who hurt others are allowed to get away with it without exposure and without punishment? For the life of me, I can't ascertain why she decided to tell the story that way. For her aunt and brother to walk in and see her being assaulted, and do NOTHING? That made no sense at all.

Even though the book appeared to tackle the issues of homophobia and religious intolerance, in the end it did not. If anything, it seemed to send the message that this kind of bigotry is okay and to be tolerated in small southern towns. Even Patrick agreed to cover up the crime. Also, it does not accurately portray loving gay relationships. When Patrick wakes up to be told that his lover was dead, wouldn't he have been upset about it? Wouldn't he have been crushed when he realized what his lover had done to him?

The more I think about this novel, the less some of it makes sense to me. It could have been so much more!

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