Another in my recent list of YA reading is the book that was the subject of a flurry of controversy after its brief appearance on the National Book Awards list. Fortunately for Lauren Myracle, that mistake might have generated as much publicity as an actual nomination would have — it’s certainly how I heard of the book — and it’s a genuinely good read for teens.
Shine tells the story of Cat, a young girl growing up in a desperately poor Southern town. By Grade 11, Cat and two others are the only three kids from her hometown still attending the regional high school — everyone else their age has already dropped out, and many are involved in the community’s only thriving business: making, selling and using meth. One of the other two kids still attending school is Patrick, who used to be Cat’s best friend until a traumatic encounter with an older boy caused Cat to withdraw from everyone (there are some parallels here to the last YA book I read, Speak). The book opens when Patrick, who is openly gay, is beaten and left for dead outside the gas station where he works.
The circumstances of the attack and a crude note left at the scene suggests Patrick may be the victim of an anti-gay hate crime. The local sheriff is inclined to pin the blame on a group of random strangers passing through town, but Cat suspects someone local is behind the attack and she decides to investigate. In the process of doing so she has to confront a lot of people with whom she’s cut ties, face a lot of her own fears, and rethink her opinions of some people. In other words, she has to grow up — just what the heroine of a young adult novel should be doing. There’s some nice writing here, a strong sense of place, and memorable characters. Well worth the read.