I lucked into finding Lauren Myrcale’s Shine well before its release date. I’d added it to my goodreads ages before because I thought the cover was pretty and because I was glad the book was going to tackle its premise. But then I forgot I bought it until I was cleaning out my old car when I bought my new one, so it took a while for me to get to reading it.
Shine follows an event that rocks a small town: the brutal beating of a local gay teenager that’s pretty clearly a hate crime. But the small town doesn’t react the way Cat, the victim’s former best friend wishes. For them, it’s all gossip and victim blaming. Even the local sheriff is ignoring any other paths besides that of least resistance. So Cat does the only thing she can think to: she takes the investigation into her own hands, unearthing the secrets buried in her small town and trying to make sense of this community she lives in.
Cat. Oh Cat. She was one of the spunkiest, most fun heroines I’ve read. What was best about her is that, even with an event in her past that left its black mark on her, she didn’t succumb to that. She shut down and shut people out, but she didn’t give up. I thought her strength and vigilance for someone she wasn’t even sure she was friends with anymore was amazing. It was like it didn’t matter. Closing herself off didn’t mean she stopped loving people, it just meant that she needed her isolation for a little while in a way. I liked that. And I liked how this book was her facing her own past as well as the reality of what the town she lived in was like. She was so compassionate and strong and watching her come into her own was one of the best parts of the book.
I will say my only real complaint with this book was how quickly she seemed to forgive the person who had left that metaphorical black mark on her – how quickly what had happened was glossed over by both the book and Cat. But even that made sense to me. This idea that there were bigger things than her own suffering now. That Cat knows people can change because she has. I don’t love how fast Cat seemed to move on, but I can kind of understand it anyway.
Mostly, this was the story of a girl in a small town. Cat was a big part of the novel, but I felt like in so many ways The Town was a character on its own. Normally I wouldn’t like the idea of lumping this group of people together, but in so many ways it worked. There was this hive mind mentality, and the people who stood out were the people who were the loudest buzzers in that hive, or the people who weren’t a part of the noise at all. The town wasn’t perfect, and even the sympathetic characters had their faults, but it also wasn’t everything Cat thought it was either.
One thing that stuck with me (and I don’t think that this is a complaint?) was the book’s setting. Not that it’s the south (because everyone knows that racism and bigotry isn’t confined here and it doesn’t offend me that the book happened to be set in this small town instead of another), but the time. It’s modern. And yes, the things that happened in Shine still happen today and that will never be ok. But something about the tone of the book didn’t feel like now. It was a poor, rural area, true, but aside from the motorcycles and the fleeting mention of the internet, everything about it felt 50 years back. Which isn’t a bad thing, at all. It was just a disconnect I felt when reading. Maybe it just makes the book more timeless? I don’t know. I know that I loved the tone and the setting, but I also know that it didn’t feel like it could be past the 1950s in some ways. I guess I’m just going to ascribe this to the versatility of Lauren Myracle’s writing, because going from writing her previous, phone and text heavy series (which I haven’t read), this was a huge jump in comfort zones I’m sure.
The ending was hard to face (though not for the obvious reasons you might assume). It’s hard to deal with the aftermath of something like this, just like it was hard for Cat to face the aftermath of what happened to her. But I think it was ultimately a very fitting ending.
It’s hard to write a book like this without it becoming an afterschool special, but the hate crime, for me, wasn’t the focus of the book. It drove the plot, for sure, but this was a book about hate and gossip and small towns and the people who live in them more than anything else. That made this book powerful. It resonated so much more for me, and I hope for everyone else who reads it.