A boy beaten, bound, and left for dead, words of hate scrawled across his chest...
A girl shrinking from life, enslaved by a shameful secret...
A tight-knit Southern community riddled by poverty, clannishness, drugs, and intolerance...
When Patrick is found near death, strung to the pump of the local gas station, sixteen-year-old Cat emerges from her self-imposed exile to avenge the horrors inflicted on her former best friend. The local sheriff is ready to pin the crime on gay-bashing out-of-towners, but Cat's suspicions lie elsewhere. Despite ominous warnings to leave it be, Cat finds the will -- fueled by fury born of an old injustice -- to expose the homegrown hatred that gave rise to Patrick's attack.
Bestselling author Myracle has crafted a hypnotic mystery, steeped in a sense of place, that is also a searing coming-of-age story: an exploration of loss, guilt, and fear fused inseparably with a tale of courage, resiliency, and love.
~Print copy, 350 pages
Published: 2011 by Amulet Books
As much as I wanted to love this... I can't quite get there. It's rather random, my bits and pieces of opinion, but this post is supposed to organize it into something coherent.
I liked that this is set in the South. Everything seems to be set in New York or London, or even another world. I come across few novels set in the good old American South.
Books about gays are also rare to cross my sightline. This copy I've read comes from my local library. I've seen it in Barnes and Noble, but my mother happens to be very Christian-like and... well, she's the one with the money. But even then, either nothing's being mentioned in the summary or they are not here, because most of it looks overwhelmingly heterosexual romance. (See my rant on not finding what I want here.)
What also caught my eye was the main character, Cat, took off from chapter one. Literally. It is within a chapter that she breaks out of that "self-imposed exile" and decides to chase her friend's assailant. In truth, this is somewhat shaky to me -- I would have liked to see her in exile, not just in flashbacks but during the story time. But still, she can be a hardy character, not some fluffy-headed princess who walks down that haunted corridor and opens that spooky door despite your irritated shouts at her to stop.
The mystery part, too, was actually pretty good. I won't spoil the ending, but the twist was pretty well-carried out -- I never saw that ending coming, and simultaneously I could see how it led there. And those types of endings pack quite the punch.
On the other hand, there were quite a few things that churned in my gut.
One of the major secondary characters, Jason. I don't know about you, but college boys hanging around 16-year-olds seems a bit... creepy. To be in college, I have to assume he's at least 18 or older. I turn 18 tomorrow. Even I can tell you that who I am now and who I was then are VASTLY different -- at 16, I was vulnerable, even more timid than I am now. I didn't see things like I do now, things like the whole picture -- not even a bigger picture, than my own little world. Two years is forever.
And that is the minimum age he could be -- he has two more years, maybe three or four or even five years, than she has in terms of experience, of that seeing the whole picture. I don't care if she likes him. I don't care that she is "mature" or "fearless" or anything else. I don't like the way this sort of relationship -- between two teenagers of vastly different ages -- was portrayed, set aside, made sort of... cute, in a way. My parents would not let my 16-year-old sister hang out with an 18-year-old -- and she has. And that sort of thing ends badly.
I also wasn't fond of how quickly things went. Like I said, Cat was raring to go from chapter one. She's well into character development within a couple more. Near the end, it began feeling kind of preachy, like there was a lesson being pushed on me. All that there's-good-in-everyone sort of lesson, where there's no real villain, because no one's a real villain.
And going off of that, I don't like how quickly her quietness was cast aside at a moment's notice. Now, I've never really been attacked myself, and I've never dealt with the consequences, when someone I love has been hurt or even overly sick. But still, Cat acted like being quiet and withdrawn was just a phase she never wanted to go back to. There was her talk of how much it hurt her friends, that she stood by; even counted herself among evil people, because she didn't say "yes" to the world and go after everything.
But being quiet and withdrawn takes over your life. I know. I barely speak more than the Pledge of Allegiance in the mornings and a paltry conversation during lunch on any given day. It deserves more than just paragraphs here and there vaguely describing how she didn't stand up for [insert friend here]. It's a lifestyle, and there's more than one type of "withdrawn" person. It can be everything, it affects everything in a worldview, and quite frankly, I've been trying to find a way even partially out of "self-imposed exile", and it doesn't go away with one decision. It doesn't go away with a chest full of fury -- I have been furious, and it gets you nowhere when you are used to a certain quiet lifestyle.
And I refuse to believe that it is entirely negative, because there is something healing and calm in not being around people, about not being so extroverted as to have lots of conversations with people every day. It's not quite evil at all, really. I do have friends, now, but I've been at the place where I am a ghost. And it's lonely. But it isn't negative, not some phase to cast off and see the error of my ways, like it seems from this novel. It's a place of mind where you can think, and see yourself.
And, while it seems kind of minor after my talks of my philosophy, this novel can become character soup at points. It's a small town, I know, and she knows everyone's name, but the ladies at the church? Aren't entirely deserving of a name. And the librarian. And the names of the parents, of the kids she keeps talking to. At times, I became somewhat confused, and this wasn't really annoying in and of itself -- but in conjunction with my questioning some of the way other things were being portrayed, it really did pick on my nerves.
All in all, I wasn't entirely fond of this novel. Not really. The bits I liked about this novel -- the setting, the fact that it is about homosexuality, rather than the homogeneous heterosexuality -- seem kind of small in comparison with the way I dislike some of the other aspects. I don't like the way being quiet, or relationships with older teenagers, were sort of made cute, set aside, in favor of the plot, or of flashbacks of her and Patrick. How being quiet looked like something she had to "get over", and how meeting with a guy at least two years older than her was made casual.
I don't really know if I'd recommend this to someone. If you take anything from this post, it's that I am not always entirely clear myself on how I feel about it. But it does grate against what I believe in places, and I'm not sure I would actively seek someone out and place this book in their hands. All I can really give in terms of whether or not someone else would want to read this is a lengthy post explaining my tangled reasoning and hoping for a discussion.
And, having said that, I give this novel a 2.5 stars, because while I am not entirely in agreement with it, I really do respect a good plot twist. (Rounded up to 3 stars.)