It is October, 1998. I am close to the end of the first semester of my senior year of college, just a few months away from beginning my student teaching experience and one month away from my 21st birthday. Early in the month, the news is dominated by the story of Matthew Shepard, a boy the same age as me, who has been tortured and left for dead in a field in Laramie, Wyoming. His crime? Being gay. On October 12, Matthew died in a hospital, unable to recover from his injuries. This crime haunted me then and still does today. How is it that human beings can be so cruel to one another? What drives someone to act out so violently just because someone else is different?
Reading the first pages of Lauren Myracle’s Shine brought back all these emotions. The book begins with a newspaper clipping, “stunned residents of Black Creek, North Carolina, pray for seventeen-year-old Patrick Truman, beaten and left for dead outside the convenience store where he works.” The article goes on to describe the abuse Patrick suffered, clearly the victim of a hate crime. All the emotions I felt in college hearing about Matthew Shepard came back at once. This introductory article would not be the last time this story brought me to tears, Patrick’s story is agonizing and, unfortunately, very familiar.
Shine is narrated by Cat, one of Patrick’s friends, who struggles with feelings of guilt for not having been a better friend and anger at the abuse he suffered not only the night he was beaten, but daily as he was the victim of school bullies. Unsatisfied with the attention the local police are giving this crime; Cat takes it upon herself to investigate and to bring justice to Patrick, who lies comatose in the hospital.
Myracle is a master story-teller with an uncanny insight into the human experience. None of her characters are stock, none are uncomplicated. Readers will recognize in the characters the complexity of the human experience. In flashback, Cat describes a particularly terrible instance of bullying that took place on the first day of high school. Patrick is pushed into the boy’s bathroom and tormented by some of the school jocks. Instead of helping her friend, Cat turns a blind eye, afraid if she stands up for him, she will also become a victim. Those are the kinds of choices humans, whether teenagers or adults, are faced with every day. How many times have you turned a blind eye to something because it was easier than getting involved? We all know what the right thing to do is, but sometimes are unable to speak up for fear of drawing attention to ourselves. Through Cat’s journey, readers will be inspired to take a stand and will be forced to evaluate their own actions towards others.
Equal attention is paid by Myracle to creating a cast of supporting characters who are every bit as human and imperfect as Cat. She brings to life the reality of living below the poverty line in the south. The school Cat attends is divided sharply down socio-economic lines. Patrick, as it turns out, is not the only one who has been the victim of bullying. Cat has also experienced torment, though she suffers her victimization silently, afraid of the ramifications of standing up to a rich and powerful family in the town. What would happen if her aunt, with whom she lives, is fired because she speaks up against her boss? Again, Myracle deftly illustrates the painful decisions we are faced with every day.
Beyond her mastery of characterization, Myracle is a master of words, able to paint beautiful or terrifying pictures with her words. Through her brilliant use of imagery, she is able to draw readers into the scene and set the mood. “Patrick’s house was a ghost, dust coated the windows, the petunias in the flower boxes bowed their heads, and spiderwebs clotted the eaves of the porch. Once I might have marveled at the webs—how delicate they were, how intricate—but today I saw ghastly silk ropes.” These first lines of chapter one paint a beautifully haunting picture and let readers feel the pain Cat is feeling—a house that once was beautiful and full of life is now empty and somber, symbolic of both Cat and Patrick. Myracle is indeed a master wordsmith.
To say Shine haunted me would be an understatement; I struggled to write this review hoping to do justice to the book. The story is both tragic and inspirational and is one that needs to be read. Parents, kids, teachers, everyone needs to read this book—the story is too important not to be heard. After reading Cat’s tale, you will see the world differently, you will be different yourself. This may be the most important YA release of 2011.