I don't even know how to begin talking about this book, you guys.
But I need to tell you about it. I need to tell you about it so much that, when I read it (months ago...like in May), I immediately thought, "OMG. I need to start blogging again immediately so that people can know how awesome this book is." (Instead I tweeted about it. Twice. And because she is awesome, Lauren Myracle tweeted me back and made my day.)
And I still don't think my 140-character gush-a-thon did this book justice. It is easily my favorite book I read this year (and I've read some fantastic books this year), and it's working it's way into my all-time top 10 (a hard list to crack).
But I have to tell you about it. Because you need to know.
OK, here we go:
Shine is the story of 16-year-old Cat, who is searching for the truth behind her former best friend Patrick's brutal attack. Myracle throws us right into the midst of a horrific hate crime. It opens with a newspaper clipping describing the crime and giving a strong sense of the characters we will meet in the book. The setting is a small Southern town — tons of tension (much more on that in a bit). The pace is slow in the beginning, but in a good way. Cat is working the mystery out, putting the clues together in a very Veronica Mars way. As the mystery comes together, Cat grows as a character, becoming more sure of herself. The book is emotionally intense and so, so powerful — it's sure to stick with you long after you've put it down.
The last 50 pages of the book are FILLED with suspense — Myracle does such an excellent job developing all the characters that you know what they're each capable of, and by the time the stakes are the highest, you are terrified of what could happen if even the slightest thing goes wrong.
The ending of this book is perfect. It is sad and terrible, but hopeful and beautiful, too. I cried and hugged the book when I was done. I didn't want it to end, but it ended exactly the way it should have. Myracle made bold choices, she wasn't afraid to take risks, and it shows. (She also isn't afraid to talk about sex and drugs, but it's not done to excess. It fits in with the plot, and the way it's layered in, it would be strange if these elements were absent. It's flawless, really.)
But what I admire most about Shine is how fully the characters embody the setting. This book was actually suggested to me by my VCFA advisor last semester (Mary Quattlebaum, who actually reviewed the book for the Washinton Post), who said that it took place in the South and was a great example of a book with a strong sense of setting.
I almost didn't read it. I hate books that take place in the South.
No offense to Southerners (I sort of am one, depending on your definition of Southern), but often what I call "Southern books" are just tiring to read. It's all about people who move slow as molasses and drink sweet tea on their porches and speak in dialect. They just have this quality to them that exhausts me and doesn't interest me in the slightest.
That wasn't the case at all with Shine. The language was absolutely beautiful, but more than that, the setting became so much a part of the characters that it felt natural, not forced. I noticed it and didn't notice it at the same time. My favorite example of this is when Cat brings dinner to her father, who lives in a trailer behind her aunt's house. Dinner is fried chicken, greens, mashed potatoes, a biscuit, and green beans. Her dad is reclining in a La-Z-Boy, and he reaches under the chair to pull out a bottle of Aunt Jemima maple syrup. He doses his entire plate in syrup before resting the plate on his huge belly and digging in.
Obviously, Myracle's description of the scene is written much more beautifully than mine. But I didn't want to grab my copy and look it up for two reasons. First, I wanted to show you that, months later, I still remember the very specific details Myracle uses to set the scene — naming Southern brands, for example. Doesn't that whole act just ooze The South to you?
But mostly I just want you to go out and get the book so you can read the scene (and the rest of the book) for yourself :)
In related news, I'm heading to the Decatur Book Festival this weekend, and Lauren Myracle will be there talking all about Shine! I'm going to try to keep my fan-girl squealing to a minimum, but it will be tough. I'll report back on her panel (and the others!) next week when I get back.