Friday, April 15, 2011

Will Haunt You Long After You Finish

Some books are haunting and others literally haunt you. This book, both physically (the cover and graphics are amazing) and as literature, will stay in the back of your head for long after you have finished it. I was surprised by the content of this story, as it turned out to be much different from what I expected, but I was absolutely not disappointed. Lauren Myracle really threw herself into Shine. You can tell there is a piece of her soul left on these pages, and you won't be the same once you have read it.

Cat and Peter grew up in Black Creek, NC, a small, rural community that keeps its skeletons in the closet and has no tolerance for anything that might come out of the closet. This is your typical southern community rife with poverty and homophobia. Everyone has "known" Peter was gay, but by not acknowledging it they don't have to confront the issue of their own homophobia.

Over the past few years, Cat and Peter have drifted apart due to her pulling away. She didn't sink into herself to get away from Peter, but rather to escape the shame of a sexual assault by one of her brother's and Peter's friends. When Peter is brutally attacked at the gas station where he works, left beaten almost to death with a gas novel taped to his mouth and a homophobic message left scrawled across him, Cat knows she must come out of her self-imposed exile in order to save her best friend. She knows she is the only one who can find the truth, because the rest of the community is content to assume the attack was made by strangers and move on with their lives. Cat has a feeling Peter was attacked by someone in their community and she will do anything to find out who hurt her friend.

As Cat digs deeper and deeper, she uncovers many nasty details about the lives of the people she grew up with, including her brother Christian. When she learns some of the boys have been dealing and using meth for the local drug dealer, she knows she is treading dangerous waters. As secrets are revealed that were never meant to see the light of day, Cat has to come to terms with her own demons as well as the ones who hurt Peter. Can she find out who hurt her friend without becoming the next victim?

This is a beautiful and ugly story all at once. The ugliness of the community's prejudices are blanketed by the beauty of how Myracle writes such a difficult story. Underneath the pain and shame of the surface story lies one of love, friendship, and loyalty. What happens to Peter is so hard to read about, but Cat's devotion to him and the truth is overwhelming. The beauty of this story is the lesson to the reader that anyone can overcome something ugly. Anyone can overcome hate and ignorance, they just have to believe in themselves. In a world that is still full of homophobia, racism, prejudice, and ugliness of other manners, it is important to realize that just one person can make a difference. One person can change things.

The language in this book can be mature at times, but so can the story itself. While this is a difficult and mature story full of attempted rape and hate crimes, the difficult nature is handled beautifully. This is a story you can share with your children and students and be sure you will both come out of the experience having grown and changed. In a world that can be really ugly at times, we need to have these kinds of conversations with our children. Sheltering children does not protect them from anything, it just leaves them unprepared when the inevitable ugliness of the world pokes its head out. A book like Myracle's Shine can prepare them for what is really out there.

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