Shine by Lauren Myracle

When her best guy friend falls victim to a vicious hate crime, sixteen-year-old Cat sets out to discover who in her small town did it. Richly atmospheric, this daring mystery mines the secrets of a tightly knit Southern community and examines the strength of will it takes to go against everyone you know in the name of justice. 

Against a backdrop of poverty, clannishness, drugs, and intolerance, Myracle has crafted a harrowing coming-of-age tale couched in a deeply intelligent mystery. Smart, fearless, and compassionate, this is an unforgettable work from a beloved author.

So I decided to read this book way back when the National Book Award debacle occurred where Shine was originally one of the nominees, but was later substituted for Chime due to an error in communication, apparently. Regardless of the fishy circumstances surrounding the whole thing, the fact that people were fighting so hard for Shine to be re-included convinced me that there had to be something to the book in question, so onto my virtual TBR it went.

This book is very good and in many ways, not what I was suspecting at all. Given the book’s synopsis and the nature of a lot of the anger over the books’ removal from the list, I had assumed the story would center around the issue of homophobia and hate crimes. And while both of those things are integral parts of the story, it isn’t “about” homophobia. Rather, homophobia is part and parcel of living in the small, poor North Carolina town of Black Creek. It’s strange to explain this, as my natural reaction to homophobia (and homophobes) is to go “NO. BAD. WRONG.” Which it is, and they are wrong in their views. However, the people of Black Creek aren’t defined solely by their homophobia, but by other things as well both good and bad. In a town where everyone knows everyone and all are experiencing hard times to varying degrees, there’s a strong sense of community. Characters are in turn kind, selfish, scared, helpful, and abusive, but there’s still this sense of empathy for each one that they’re not solely good or evil. That’s not to say hateful or violent actions are condoned; what Tommy did to Cat is, in no uncertain terms, shown as wrong and horrific. There’s a dark side to Black Creek, what with widespread poverty and meth addiction. But it’s still a complex community with no easy or right way to look at it and the people that make it up.

I really liked Cat.  She had a clear, direct way of describing situations that I appreciated. I also was into the direct attitude she took in solving the mystery behind the attack of her best friend. For the past couple of years. she’s disconnected herself away from everyone, including Patrick. It takes the attack and the realization that she does not know what’s changed in the town that this would happen that forces her to reconnect with all these people she’s previously shut out, including those she wants nothing to do with at all. She has her own brand of strength that manifests itself in her conviction to finding out the truth behind the attack on Patrick, and also in opening herself up and growing into a person that she herself can respect – someone who confronts people, asks questions, and is determined to get what she wants out of them and presenting herself as someone to be listened to.

I don’t think I would have picked this book up had it not been for the controversy, and while it is a shame the whole thing happened, I’m glad that it resulted in me doing so. Written by another person, this book could have been completely different. It could have been hackneyed and clichéd and it could have overemphasized the poverty of Black Creek to the point of becoming ruin porn (it’s about Detroit, but I think the concept is applicable to other places). All of the complexity that makes this book what it is simply would not have been there at all. As it is, this book is about people, some of them horrible people, but people nonetheless living as best they can. It reminds me a lot of The Knife and the Butterfly – the circumstances suck, but these are their lives, and all they can do is live them as they know how to or want to. In Cat’s case, she’s able to reach a place where she can imagine her life being what she wants it to be, both inside and outside of Black Creek. So yeah. It’s complex, nuanced, well-written book and Lauren Myracle tells its story beautifully.

Disclosure – library

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