Lauren Myracle is no stranger to controversy. She has been called Satan, Satan’s handmaiden, and many other colorful things, but lucky for us, she continues to write amazing books and with such a great attitude. Even when her book Shine was erroneously nominated for the National Book Award because it so closely resembled a similar title Chime by Franny Billingsly and all nomination discussions were conducted via telephone. After the initial announcement including both titles, Myracle was asked to withdraw her nomination to uphold the integrity of the award. While many of us may have cried foul and stomped our feet in anger, she handled the situation with grace.
Even when Myracle gets a book placed on the banned list, it doesn’t hover somewhere near the middle, trying to blend in with the other books, embarrassed to be there, like the prom queen caught out at 2 AM partying with the hard edge stoner girls, oh no! It stands up tall and whoops out at the top of its lungs, “Yeah, I’m a free-spirit who can’t be contained, what of it? Now, who wants to party?!!”
In 2009 and 2011, her books were THE MOST challenged books in the country. Myracle said, “If you’re gonna be on a list, you might as well be No. 1.” She doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects like sexuality, homosexuality, and alcohol abuse. She writes complex teen characters that explore these topics and respond like real teens would. Just the thing to get some parents seeing red. When asked about why she thought she was on the banned list, Myracle responded:
…most people who challenge a book haven’t actually read it. If you’re skimming it, words jump out at you: “fuck,” “penis,” “condom.” It triggers a set of reflexes.
I understand why parents worry about books—they’re worried about their kids. They want to keep their kids safe. But parents aren’t always realistic. One said to me, “I can’t believe you introduced my 13-year-old daughter to thong underwear.” I’m pretty sure she knows about them already. She probably owns a pair.
This reminded me of a story my daughter told me about a friend that actually made her own thong underwear out of the respectable panties her mother bought for her. I asked the only rational thing that popped into my head when given such classified information, “Wasn’t she scared that her mom would find them in her laundry?” I was then informed that the young girl in question started doing her own laundry. I’m sure her mom thought she had taken a responsible turn and didn’t think twice about it. Ah, the mind of a teenager. So devious. So resourceful.
Parents aren’t the only ones who try to protect our children from what they deem as harmful topics. Sometimes even well-meaning librarians who should know better than to censor books that could be helpful to the right student just can’t help being judgmental. Myracle recounted one incident in particular:
I remember going to a library once in Ohio. They had invited me, telling me, “We’d love to have you talk here.” But when I got there, a librarian said, “We don’t have your dirty books on display here.” I didn’t want to get into a fight, but I thought, “You should serve your population—kids have different needs.” I asked if they had a book called Thirteen Reasons Why, about a girl who commits suicide. She said, “Heavens no! It’s pro-suicide.” But it’s the opposite. The book shows how horrible it is for everyone when you take your life.
Kids are smart. Knowledge is power. Let them figure things out. Don’t turn into that grown-up who they won’t come to. (All quotes from Daily Beast article, April 11, 2012. See full article here.)
Hell, yeah! that is my kind of author. I so wanna be Lauren Myracle when I grow up.
I was first introduced to her books a couple of years ago when I picked up one of her “internet girls” IM series to see what all the fuss was about (and because I like to support banned book writers). After reading ttyl, the first in that series that is written entirely in texting dialogue, I was slightly underwhelmed. It wasn’t so much the texting format itself that bothered me, you adjust to it pretty quickly, I think it was more because all the action was happening off-stage, so to speak. We kept hearing about everything that was going on through the texting, but not really “seeing” it. For me, l liked it well enough and I could see the appeal to teens – it was almost like it was written in code just for them, talking about things they actually discussed when alone with their friends – but it didn’t hold the emotional punch that I desired. Undeterred, I decided to give her another try when Shine came my way and I’m so glad I did.
Emotional impact achieved.
This book , which is not written in text dialogue, but in a very convincing teen voice, follows the story of Cat, a young girl living in poverty in a rural North Carolina town. Her estranged best friend Patrick, the only openly gay teen in this backwater town, has just been beaten within an inch of his life in what appears to be a hate crime. The local law enforcement is intent on pinning it on unknown rowdy out-of-towners, but to Cat, it feels too personal. She thinks someone closer to home is responsible and she plans on finding out who. In a place where most folks want things left well enough alone and where even the kids are armed, that may not be the best idea she’s ever had.
All of the characters and all of their relationships have such depth. There are no caricatures of southern hicksville here. It feels like a place I’ve been before and didn’t want to return, in most instances. The level of poverty only felt in rural areas with no future of growth in sight and the emotional despair of the people – some struggling to eek out a livable existence, some trying to blot out the pain through drug use – are palpable. I could relate to Cat’s emotional state as well, having been through a rough estrangement with one of my very best friends when I was in high school. The reason she is estranged from Patrick is a familiar one, too. My situation wasn’t anywhere near as severe – Cat experiences a sexual assault from a family friend – but I must say that closing myself off from everyone I knew was a natural response . When something happens to you that you can’t talk about, even to your best friend, you push the world away and embrace a world of solitude and silence. When Cat’s closest family members choose to turn a blind eye rather than see she’s been hurt, this teaches her to bottle it all up, shut off from the rest of the world, and close her own eyes to what others are going through. It takes this awful incident with Patrick to reawaken Cat and to start forcing the truth to light.
As I read this story, I began to wonder about my own situation back in high school and my estrangements from the people who loved me. Would I have risked everything to find out what happened to my best friend if something like this happened? Would I have done the right thing? I hope so. Any book that touches me emotionally and makes me think long after I put it down is brilliant and one I wouldn’t hesitate to let a child of mine read.
Here is the book trailer for Shine. It is truly beautiful.