By Lauren Myracle
Amulet. $16.95. Ages 14 and up
Having been raised in the rural South, I confess to chucking aside many a book larded with stereotypical miscreants and sugared with “honey, chile” blandishments. But praise be, author Lauren Myracle moves beyond Old Dixie cliches to deliver her finest novel yet, a sensitive portrayal of a contemporary small town bound to silence by old secrets and loyalties.
Cat Robinson, 16, is determined to break the silence surrounding the violent beating of her former best friend, a gay schoolmate named Patrick. The “ripped from the headlines” nature of this hate crime is emphasized by the novel’s opening: a newspaper account of the (fictional) incident. Gossip is rife, and the sheriff’s investigation stagnant, so Cat sets out herself to ask hard questions of her older brother and his “redneck posse.” Cat, though, has her own sad secret, which has distanced her from Patrick and her brother for three years. Even as this high-stakes mystery gains momentum, Cat flashes back frequently to her own past and slowly realizes the ways in which her secret intersects with Patrick’s victimization. A meth dealer (not uncommon in poverty-dazed regions) and a snobby college boy complicate matters. And if you think you can guess whodunit from this brief review, you’ve been reading the same tired Southern tales I have. Chuck those in favor of Myracle’s remarkable novel. You’ll find yourself relishing not just a complex plot but phrases that shine with a sense of character and place. Just one example: Patrick’s eyes are green “like a 7UP bottle shot through with light.” Ahhh. I raise a pickle jar of sweetened ice tea to such fresh writing.
— Mary Quattlebaum