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.

Luv Ya Bunches by Lauren Myracle

I’m doing this review without the book in front of me, because I immediately passed it on to one of my students today.  As I was reading it I knew she would love, so I made sure she took it home with her to read over the impending snow day.  I already know that Luv Ya Bunches will be passed from one girl to another and that’s quite a feat. But it really is the perfect book for tween girls.

The story focuses on four tween girls- Katie-Rose, Yasaman, Violet, Katie-Rose, and Camilla (or Milla for short). They are brought together upon beginning fifth grade. On the first day of fifth grade, Violet, the new girl in town, asks for directions from the wrong people. Peppy and super-friendly Katie-Rose gives directions a little too enthusiastically. Shy and quiet Yasaman happens to pass by at the worst moment. Milla, one of the popular girls, ends up being knocked into the ground. At the same moment, Milla’s lucky turtle falls out of her bag and ends up in the wrong hands- Modessa, the queen bee. Out of these disasters, an unlikely friendship is born.

The story is told by all four girls, in a mixture of narrative prose, stage directions, and online chats. Each girl has her own very distinctive personality and voice, and I loved seeing the story through all of their eyes. I especially love how diverse the girls are- it’s not a standard, cookie-cutter story. I also loved how realistic the girls’s situations are. My 6th graders will identify with the issues brought on by cell phones, cliques, and parents.

Highly recommended!

*Copy purchased from Scholastic Book Clubs

Bliss by Lauren Myracle

I hate horror- movies, books, TV shows, you name it. If it is horror, I avoid it like the plague. Somehow, the fact that Lauren Myracle’s newest novel, Bliss, is a horror story escaped me. Never mind the fact that the title is written in blood on the cover. I managed to miss all the not-so-subtle clues. In fact, I was thrilled when I received an ARC from the publisher thinking it was just the book I needed. I wanted something light and fluffy, something fun and beachy to read.

I was wrong.

Very wrong.

Myracle has crafted a true horror story, in the tradition of Stephen King. Bliss is the child of hippie parents. She’s moved around a lot, living in basements, various apartments, and most recently a commune. She loves her life on the commune, but is uprooted when her parents flee to Canada to avoid Nixon’s policies during the Vietnam War. Bliss is left with her wealthy grandmother in recently-integrated Atlanta.

Suddenly, everything she knows seems wrong and different. On the commune, health and hygiene were basic. Bliss never considered that the rest of the country might think differently. A bra becomes a necessity, make-up part of her daily routine. But the hardest part for Bliss is the fact that blacks and whites are still so separate. On the commune, her best friend was African-American. In Atlanta, her grandmother has a “negra” housekeeper. There is only one “token” black student in her prep school. And the KKK is alive and well.

Before she leaves the commune, Bliss’ best friend warns her of a vision she had- two girls that will not be good for her. Bliss ignores the vision, assuming it’s nothing. However when she begins attending her new prep school, she begins hearing a haunting, evil voice around a certain building. Her new friends seem harmless enough (though Bliss has a hard time navigating the world of high school girls), but the voice haunts her. Then, one of her new friends begins acting crazy and sympathizing too much with the Manson family (the Tate-LaBianca murders have just occurred) and romanticizing a rumor about a girl who killed herself on campus when the school was still a convent.

Myracle’s newest novel includes pieces of the Manson Family murders and the resulting Tate-LaBianca trial, as well as the realities of racism during that time. Bliss is a believable narrator and you sympathize with her complete confusion when it comes to this new world called high school. The novel also includes various snippets from another character’s diary, in between Bliss’ chapters. You see the beginnings of this character’s psychosis take hold and eventually take over their life. I spent most of the book trying to predict who that character would turn out to be.

The story is frightening. Too much of it rings true and seems all too realistic. The horror aspect is horrific, and threatened to give me nightmares (I’m a baby)! I can’t wait to recommend this to some of my students who love the Cirque Du Freak books. This is definitely not a G-rated book. I would probably give it a PG/PG-13 purely due to the horror.