Friday, November 18, 2011

Shine

How does Lauren Myracle, the author of the YA novel Shine, provoke readers to consider humanity's most perplexing issues, such as sexuality, violence, family, and love? By placing impoverished and mostly parentless teens such as protagonist Cat and her friend Patrick, in bleak Black Creek, a town of 743 people in North Carolina. It's a depressing place where all the stores have been replaced by Walmart, where Methamphetamine is a major business and recreation, and where only women go to church, Sundays and Wednesdays.

When serious problems crop up in Black Creek, Cat is on her own, without even a cell phone.

Myracle is a talented writer whose descriptions take us to dangerous places where we hope to never go in real life, though many kids do end up in these places.

One dark place is Cat's sexual assault at home on the sofa, at age thirteen, by a sixteen year-old, strong and good-looking friend of her brother's.

"He laughed, saying, 'You're so cute.' He shifted so that his body was angled toward me, and I felt trapped, even though I wasn't. Why didn't I call out? Why didn't I push him away?


'Tommy,' I whispered. I wanted him to understand without my having to say it. I didn't want to hurt his feelings."


Finally, Cat tells us, "I was lost. Tommy was touching a part of me that no one was supposed to."


This seemed authentic; Cat not being able to assert herself, to say, "No" to this older boy as he pressures her. Luckily, the event is interrupted, she's saved by Tommy's motorcycle exploding outside! But still, the assault was psychologically traumatic and Cat isolates herself until she's sixteen, and avoids even her best childhood friend Patrick, who happens to be gay. Her rage three years later is awakened and underlies the main storyline:

Cat's ends her isolation at age sixteen, when Patrick is brutally assaulted in what looks like a typical red-neck hate crime. Patrick, who worked the closing shift at a gas station, was found with a skull fracture and "slumped on the pavement , bound to the guardrail of the fuel dispenser. The gasoline nozzle protruded from his mouth, held in place with duct tape . . . Across the teen's bare chest, scrawled in blood, were the words Suck this Faggot." 

Awakened out of her isolation by this horrific event, Cat begins her indefatigable effort to discover Patrick's assailant, to attain the justice that eluded her, untangling a complicated web of shifting allegiances and secrets, and an unexpected ending.

This novel reads like a detective story, with clues doled out at intervals that keep the pages turning. And there are a few bright spots that provided some relief, such as Cat's older brother's love and loyalty, and his willingness to take a few risks along with Cat. (It's OK to give the protagonist some help, just as long as he doesn't take over.)

Interestingly, as the book begins, we don't know the details of Cat's assault three years earlier, it's only hinted at. But we finally see it as a flashback at the end, explaining her extreme determination to risk her life to seek justice for Patrick.

Myracle's detailed setting and strong, complicated characters keep us asking, "What's going to happen next?"

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