Lauren Myracle’s SHINE uses atmosphere and suspense to examine small-town life and the intolerance and complexities that can underlie it. When Cat was thirteen, she was best friends with Patrick, but then something happened and she stopped speaking to most people. Now, three years later, Patrick is the victim of a horrible hate crime. When the investigation stalls, Cat decides to unravel the mystery for herself and bring Patrick’s attacker to justice. In the process, Cat uncovers startling information about small-town politics, hidden secrets, drug culture, and what it means to stand up for someone.
From the outset of SHINE, Myracle impressed me with her clear, descriptive writing and its ability to create a stifling atmosphere for the town and its inhabitants. This style worked well for a story that provides an unflinching examination of homophobia, poverty, drugs, and the long-term impacts of intolerance and assault. The author also managed to do what most writers do not: she portrayed the people of a small, rural town as real and complicated, not stupid or backwards. Instead of falling into easy stereotypes, the main characters are depicted as people with complex desires but limited opportunities. Each character, even the protagonist, is not wholly good or wholly bad. The mystery plot also plays out in a mostly believable way, without any need for Cat to put herself into unlikely, supernatural, or unbelievable situations in order to solve the crime.
Even with this mix of suspense and compelling issues, SHINE never grabbed me as much as I had hoped. Though there were many emotional and poignant details in the story, I never became really invested in the characters. Parts of the mystery were predictable, and some clues were discovered too easily with characters too willing to talk. Slow pacing pulled things down a bit in the middle, and the outcomes at the end of the novel felt too convenient and somewhat unsettling in their possible messages. Despite the uplifting connotation of the title, which is referenced in the book, the story also ended without much uplift or hope.
SHINE has much to offer with its realistic and gritty depiction of the often harsh realities of living in small town America. In future books, however, I hope that Myracle’s ability to create mood and setting pull me into the characters’ lives and struggles more.
Note: This review refers to an advance reader's copy.