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 emot...moreI 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.
I was very wary of this book because Hunger was such a profoundly good read that I feared this one would fall short. My fears were completely unfounde...moreI was very wary of this book because Hunger was such a profoundly good read that I feared this one would fall short. My fears were completely unfounded because Kessler has written a truly masterful sequel. Much like the author, I have a very limited experience with self-injury and I expected to have a bit of trouble warming to Missy. And it did take me at least a third of the book before I really started to understand her in a way and her turmoil, which I completely attribute to Kessler's skill at exploring the inner-workings of the teenaged mind. While possibly not as visceral as her exploration of eating disorders -- and I can only think that's to be expected given she lacks the firsthand experience with self-injury -- Missy truly comes alive on the page in a way that is raw and gripping. On the outside she may be bottling in all her emotions, but there is a depth to her that practically leaps off the page.
Again, I remain impressed by the scope of the story itself and how completely immersive it is. It manages to retain the feel of the previous novel and continue threads into the ongoing series and still be entirely different in scope and feel. Above all, for me at least, doesn't sensationalize violence or aggrandize the idea of war. While these themes are explored in varying detail, the focus is essentially on Missy's internal struggle with her emotions and essentially her battle to achieve control. I also find it commendable that Kessler has once again written about a tough issue that many teens struggle with and tackle it in a compelling and unrelenting way without proselytizing. Missy's cutting is not without its shock value, but is never presented in any other way but tangible and completely real.
It's not often that I read something so fundamentally astounding that I have to struggle to find words, but it seems to be a systemic issue for me with this series. It's a rare combination to find a read that is purely entertaining, astonishingly powerful and impeccably written; truly, I was swept away. Not that I'm complaining. I am desperately intrigued to see where this series goes from here! And I rather like the ambiguous nature this book has left us with Missy and the quartet as a whole.