So, despite the acclaim and the buzz and the controversy, I've been avoiding Shine for ages because I knew that the story centered around a hate crime against a gay teenager, and... well, even though I love horror movies and crime novels, I have a really hard time with realistic depictions of violence. Especially when I see the victim as an innocent (kids and animals, but sometimes adults, too, like Peter Sellers' character in Being There), or as outnumbered or an underdog. I tend to be a bit of an ostrich about it, so... yes. I've been avoiding.
Well, for anyone who's continuing to do the same thing: the violent attack that acts as a catalyst for the story takes place entirely before the book begins. It's recounted, but in the form of a newspaper article, which gives it the distance of formality and fact-over-emotion, which makes it that much more bearable to read about. Or, well, it did for me, anyway. If I'd known that, I'd have read the book months ago.
Anyway. Let's back up.
After her childhood friend, Patrick, is beat into a coma, tied to a gas pump and left for dead, 16-year-old Cat is frustrated by the police department's lack of movement on the case, and starts her own investigation. In doing so, she leaves her self-imposed exile* of years and begins to re-enter the world:
My chest was tight, but I looked at the blue sky, clear and pale above the tree line, and said out loud, "Fine, I'll do it." I would speak for Patrick. I'd look straight into the ugliness and find out who hurt him, and when I did, I'd yell it from the mountaintop.
"Do you hear that, God?" I said. "Do you see me now?"
Biggest surprise for me? That more people aren't describing Shine as a crime/mystery novel. Because, yes, it's a nuanced portrait of a small Southern town—the beautiful, the downright ugly, and the in-between—filled with three-dimensional characters, and it's a story about friendship, family, fear, and forgiveness**, but the driving force behind all of the action is a question: What Really Happened at the Come 'n' Go That Night?
It's a solid, solid book that deals with a wide variety of issues—homophobia, addiction, and sexual assault, among others—without ever feeling preachy or issue-driven. Cat's voice is down-to-earth and, even though she talks around Certain Things until she's finally ready to face them, she always comes off as frank and honest. She's tamped down her anger for years—now that she's allowing herself to A) feel it and B) let other people see it, she's finding that she's brave, independent and resourceful.
Also, the design is gorgeous, and I really liked the font used for the chapter headings. It had an upside-down and backwards feel that worked really well with the storyline and with the theme of shades of gray vs. black-and-white. Because although Cat never actually voices the Shades of Gray realization, pretty much every interaction she has with anyone drives that point home. (In a good, subtle way. Subtle enough that it didn't occur to me until I sat down to write this.)
I'm glad I finally read it, and I'm only sorry that it took me so long to pick it up.
*If I'd known about that storyline, I may have continued being an ostrich for even longer, so I'm glad I didn't know about it ahead of time. That part—I'm trying not to be spoiler-y, though most of you have probably read the book by now, so I don't know why I'm tiptoeing, but whatever—is recounted in visceral, scary detail. And so, in a way, it's a stand-in for the emotional impact of Patrick's beating. Kind of like how the abortion scene was a stand-in for the murder scene in that Eye of God movie, which was, hands down, one of the more depressing things I've ever seen. Wow. Digress much?
**Alliteration FTW! Also, there's a romance.
Book source: ILLed through my library.