Shine by Lauren Myracle

This book is important. It is a book that teens need to read. So do teachers, parents, administrators, and anyone else who works with teens. It’s not an easy book to read- not by any stretch. I found myself repulsed at times, horrified by the actions of some characters. Yet it’s realistic. There are adults who will hate this book, who will call it all sorts of names and demand that it be taken off the shelf. But we must not let that happen. Shine is too important, and I hope it is able to change the way teens think and act.

Cat is damaged. Something happened to her a few years ago, and she has buried the event. However, she knows the ugly is still there and it still changed her. After the incident, she pulled away from her friends and family. She is angry at her family for not protecting her and she hopes that by pulling away from her friends she can heal. Unfortunately, all she did was become a loner.

Now, how (former) best friend, Patrick, has been beaten almost-to-death, the victim of a hate crime. Cat knows that someone in their small town almost killed Patrick and she is determined to find out who it was. Patrick’s sexuality is no secret to the rest of the town, and there is very little acceptance for LGBT people. I hesitate to tell you anymore, but just know that you need to read this book.

Lauren Myracle has crafted a gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, reality-checking book. It’s graphic. It’s horrifying. And yet- it’s real. Cat lives in a small town and the people she loves are small-minded. The regularly use derogatory terms around Patrick. Heck, even his friends mock him for being gay. But how many of our teens experience the same thing every day of their lives? How many teens laugh alongside their friends and don’t realize the damage they are doing?

One of my favorite characters in Shine is Robert, a supporting character’s tween brother. Myracle does a fantastic job showing the reader how kids and tweens learn to bully, how derogatory terms become a part of their vernacular even when they don’t fully understand the implications of those words. Then those kids grow up to be teenagers and adults who share their views with their own children. It’s a vicious cycle, and Myracle is trying to show teens that it needs to be stopped.

There will be some readers who are angry about the ending. Know right now that the issues at the heart of the book don’t get wrapped up in a nice little bow. But does life ever end that way? Myracle keeps this book realistic through and through. She is dedicated to changing the culture of hate that flows through so many cliques, high schools, and this country as a whole.

Shine is important. It begs to be shared with teens and to be discussed. I can’t see it being read aloud in school (language, drug references, etc), but high school literature circles and book clubs are the perfect playground for for this book. As teachers and librarians, we need to get books like Shine into the hands of our readers. They have the power to change the world and this book is one that might help get them started.

*ARC provided courtesy of the publisher

Another ARC tease…

I just finished reading an ARC of Lauren Myracle’s April 2011 novel, Shine. I could not put this book down. In fact, I did not even put it in my purse when I went to school because I knew I would not be able to resist peeking at it all day long. I stayed up way too late last night finishing it, and all I can say is, “Wow.”

This is a heavy, heavy book. But it is an important one. The issues Myracle touches on are varied yet the same, many and really just one. This is a book that will upset some people, surely anger some, and more importantly- it should start conversations. Shine will go on the shelf next to Laurie Halse Anderson’s books and Chris Crutcher’s books. It is stunning. Look for a review closer to publication.

Bystander by James Preller

As a middle school teacher, I see bullying everyday. People who don’t work in education tend to think bullying is only physical- fistfights and the like. But I see name calling, teasing, isolation, rumors, gossip, and much more used to instill fear in students. While most schools have anti-bullying curriculums, it seems that many students tune them out. When you are 11 or 12 years old, the last thing you want to listen to your teachers about is how to get along with your classmates. Everyone knows teachers are ancient and never experienced middle school!

That’s where a book like James Preller’s Bystander comes in.  Eric is the new kid in his Long Island town.  When he meets Griffin and his posse of hangers-on right before school begins he can tell they are a little different.  Over the next few weeks he learns that Griffin is the sort of kid who makes an awful enemy.  Charming and scheming, he is what teachers call an “adult pleaser but kid teaser”.  He is one of those kids with a naturally magnetic personality, one he uses to control the kids around him.  But he always puts on a different face for the adults in his life, such as teachers and parents, and convinces them he is a sweet, mild-mannered child with good morals.

Very quickly Eric realizes that Griffin is a bully.  But he doesn’t do much about it, as a bystander.  Why?  Because he isn’t the target.  As any kid will tell you, stepping in will only make you the bully’s next target.  At least, that’s the line of thought most kids follow.  But when Griffin goes too far Eric begins to notice exactly what he is doing to his so-called friends.  What’s a kid to do when his conscience kicks in but his brain tells him that he will be the next victim if he does anything?

I really enjoyed Bystander.  It’s not an easy book to read.  There were a few times where I felt teachers might enjoy it more than tweens, but the message really hits home.  Kids can be cruel and that doesn’t always mean throwing punches.  Sometimes, it’s the verbal and emotional bullying that is even worse.

What I really loved about this book is the fact that it doesn’t end with the teacher or another adult solving the problem and dealing with the bullies.  Eric and his friends need to decide for themselves how to handle the situation.  As a teacher, I admit to being a little frustrated at first when I read the last page.  But then I realized it is exactly what tween are looking for.  They don’t need us stepping in all the time and solving their problems.  They need to learn how to work within their own cliques and peer groups.  As much as we might want to see the bully “get what he deserves”, that isn’t always realistic and kids know that.  So kudos to James Preller!

I look forward to adding this one to my classroom library.  I think it would make a great read aloud or literature circle title.  I can imagine some great conversations and writing stemming from the story.

*My own purchased copy. This is a Cybils nominee and all opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the panel as a whole.

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