I was so blown away by this book when I finished it I literally couldn't string together words to express myself. I found myself reeling from the emotI was so blown away by this book when I finished it I literally couldn't string together words to express myself. I found myself reeling from the emotional roller coaster and totally awed by the story and it's subject matter. Shine will be known for the fact that it is about a hate crime against a gay teenager. Maybe twenty odd years from now it will be one of those books routinely assigned in English class because it touches on themes of handling intolerance, living in poverty, coping with sexual abuse and dealing with drug addiction. Actually, I would be glad to hear that happen because that's all well and good seeing as these are all important issues and Myracle does an amazing job exploring them.
But for its gritty, heavy subject matter, this is an astonishingly upbeat book! That's because of Cat, who narrates the story as the protagonist. She's all things soft and sweet and innocent. Yet, she's not lacking in strength or intelligence. Her voice, tinged with just the right amount of Southern to fit her into the small town of Black Creek and make her impossibly friendly, comes across as familiar in a world that may be rooted firmly in the present but still seems alien. Well, no, that's the thing: Cat makes it seem as familiar a life as if I were living it. She makes it all relatable in such a way that, I think, anyone can find common ground. And, most of all, she's just so damn lovable it's impossible to not be sucked into her tale.
What I found most endearing about Cat is that she entirely drives the plot without doing random stupid things. And when she does do the odd and/or stupid thing, like go to a meth dealer's house, she can justify exactly why she has to do it. One great example is when she spouts off a telling fact about a boy she's falling for that she literally just met; it's such a random realization that it's impossible to ignore and she even admits that she's shocked to already know him that well so quickly. She isn't blindingly moving through the story, but instead she has a firm goal in sight and she's hellbent to accomplish it. Part of it is through the sheer need to fix things -- her best friend is lying in a hospital dying and maybe, just maybe if she'd been a better friend he wouldn't be. The other part, and it's somewhat related to that motive to fix things, is her deep sense of faith.
The overt religious aspect of the book is apparent right from the start. Frankly, it made me wary because it gives the impression of being preachy, which seems counter-intuitive considering within the first page we know the main aspect of the book is about a homosexual teenager being brutalized. But this is very indicative of the South, especially the very backwoods, small town South that the novel takes place in. Cat's church-going ways are deeply set in her -- it's the normal way of things -- and that's not a life I'm at all familiar or comfortable with. Cat's like a buffer, though and it's through her that things are filtered so all the godliness is not so much a sermon on sinning but another driving force for her to figure out this mystery. She wants to be a better person -- she wants to shine God's light and love. She knows that wrong things are going on and unlike the rest of the town -- and specifically her aunt -- she's not going to build a wall around herself and ignore it all. Or rather, she's not going to any more because truth be told she's built a damn fine wall to shield herself from her own trauma.
In some ways Cat is absolutely the last person who should be slogging along to get to the truth. She went through a horrible situation about three years before the book's present timeline and to cope she closed herself off. She shunned her friends, including her now laid up best friend Patrick. For three years she's wandered around as a shell of her former self, not trusting anyone. Even and especially those closest to her, like her brother. She's never had cause before to show real strength or bravado because she had others -- generally her brother -- to pull her out of the danger if it presented itself. And she's gotten so good at ignoring the bad around her, because that was how things are supposed to be dealt with, that she's literally ignorant of it. (I find it somewhat amusing that she's just as scandalized at discovering a friend is cheating on her boyfriend as she is that practically everyone she knows is a meth addict!) So, of course, everyone is totally baffled at why she's so doggedly determined to figure out what happened. They aren't forthcoming with information -- and they pointedly question her reasons because of her history. But she never wavers in her goal. I find it quite empowering and as a character arc it's a very believable journey in her development.
It's kind of magical in a way that all this is set against a backdrop of what is essentially a lot of evil. Myracle doesn't bother with hiding the ugly side of the world. One of the first things introduced is the simple fact that this is a poor town and its inhabitants, for the most part, live in downright squalor. They're living their lives the only way they know how, but it doesn't mean they're not aware of how it could be better. So, it's really not surprising that an entire ring of drug addiction is present. Cat finds out that most of her friends are right in the middle of it and they aren't just running crank, but they're tweakers, too. It's no secret that the town is homophobic either. The first step Cat makes in her investigation is to poke around after a church service and she's pretty shocked to hear the reactions people have to Patrick's attack. Of course they're all upset, but there's a point to which they're sorry because, you know, he was gay. Like that almost excuses having his head bashed in, being strung up to a gas pump, having a gas nozzle shoved down his throat, hateful words scrawled on his chest and now lying in a coma on the verge of death. And of course there's also Cat's baggage to think about, which is only hinted at for much of the book before she fully details the story. It's obvious she was sexually assaulted, though. Since her attacker is one of her prime suspects, she's well aware she'll have to face him at some point and it scares her like nothing else. (Well, except maybe for heights.)
Shine is a very powerful and intense book and honestly I think everyone should read it yesterday because there's so much to take from it. I really loved this book because it was enjoyable to read. Given the subject matter that was not something I expected at all. I won't say that it was entirely an easy or comfortable read, but Cat's journey is truly engrossing and I found myself wrapped up in her world in a way that made the more off-putting elements slightly more bearable without downgrading their significance. I especially like that there are no loose ends, but Myracle doesn't tie it up with a bow to the point where miraculously everything is all better and perfect. Life for those in Black Creek might be marred, especially for the main characters, but it's going to continue and it isn't going to be any more or less easy. It sounds cynical to put it that way, but it's not how it's presented which is a comfort unto itself.
It's been way more than ten years since I stopped reading Sweet Valley High books. I've forgotten more about the series as a whole than most people arIt's been way more than ten years since I stopped reading Sweet Valley High books. I've forgotten more about the series as a whole than most people are even vaguely familiar with. I was never a diehard fan, but they were something to read and they weren't terrible. But to be honest, I was not expecting much out of this book.
Which is probably good because it didn't offer much. Oh, there's a story of sorts there. One that kind of meanders around before bothering to go anywhere and then when it does finally manage to get off its own arse it peters out in a rather unremarkable and way too conveniently SVH style way. You know, happy endings abound. Blah blah blah. That in itself is irksome, but the thing that just bewilders me is that there's so much time devoted to the pure shock value of introducing the old characters in their new and completely different lives. It plays out rather like a sensationalized high school reunion where (shockingly!) everyone has grown up and had these dramatic lives that no one expected. And maybe that was the point? Even so it's either not interesting enough or so over-the-top that it defies believability. Mostly, I just found myself rolling my eyes.
Liz and Jess are basically the same as I recall them, if not even more dynamically extreme in their personalities. It's hard to believe that anyone can be as selfless as Liz or as selfish as Jess and yet ten years later they're still having basically the same issues they were having when we could blame it on teenaged hormones. Todd's completely one-dimensional and everyone else has so little time in the spotlight that they're basically day players on a television show.
If it were just that, I'd probably have managed to gleam a modicum of enjoyment out of the book just chalking it up to a trashy read. But then there's all the stuff that truly aggravated me. One, the book jumps points-of-view like I change socks. Sometimes paragraph by paragraph! This is kind of humorous since there's an apparent clue as to who is telling the story at the beginning of each chapter by way of a caption for which city we're in because I don't know about you but I always have a hard time figuring out the difference between Manhattan and Sweet Valley.
The coup de grâce is that the book switches what tense it's told in, too! And in a move that can only be the most backwards thing I can think of the FLASHBACKS are told in first person present tense, while the rest of the book is in third person past-tense. Which leads me into my biggest issue of all: the Valley speak. Really, do people actually talk like that? I've never been to the West Coast, but it just seems quite far-fetched. Moreover I don't recall Jessica having this odd speech impediment in the actual series and even if she did I would think that in ten years she could have grown out of using "like" and "so" and "way" every third word. Not to mention no one else except Jess speaks like that.
Even though there was all that to contend with, surprisingly, I did read the entire book. I can only chalk it up to the fact that it was just too much of a train wreck to put down, but I will admit there were a few moments spread here and there that I found truly enjoyable. Unfortunately, they were so few and far between they couldn't stop the sinking that was this book's ship . . . and then there was the epilogue which is just downright cringe-worthy in every way that sealed its fate entirely. My curiosity is fully sated and yet I can't help but feel it was a waste of my time.