Shine is the story of a hate crime, or so it seems. Cat’s dear friend Patrick has been savagely beaten and left in a coma, and everyone in town knows it’s because he’s gay. But no one, including the sheriff, knows what actually happened—so Cat makes it her mission to find the attacker herself. This is serious stuff, and author Lauren Myracle doesn’t shy away from the tough emotions her characters face: “Why does God let bad things happen?” Cat wonders in anguish. “Could he not see her, or did he not care?”
Beyond the strife and violence, Shine is also a Southern story, a country story, refreshingly regional amid a sea of novels set in suburban Anywhere, USA. Black Creek, North Carolina, is a tiny village of 500, idyllic in setting but isolated, and with more than its share of poverty and problems. Myracle gets in all the details: the beauty of the woods and the comfort of home cooking, but also the drug use that threatens the community, and the embarrassed anger Cat feels at being thought of as a hillbilly by the people in town.
In becoming a small-town sleuth, Cat not only solves the mystery of the night her friend was attacked, but also confronts pain from her own past she hasn’t yet dealt with. She has an essential sweetness—and a bit of sass—that make her a winning main character. But the novel’s ending, while satisfying, has the main characters perpetuating a lie, which feels strange after so much truth-seeking. All in all, though, this is an engaging story with characters who really come to life.