Publication Date: May 1st, 2011
When her best guy friend falls victim to a vicious hate crime, sixteen-year-old Cat sets out to discover who in her small town did it. Richly atmospheric, this daring mystery mines the secrets of a tightly knit Southern community and examines the strength of will it takes to go against everyone you know in the name of justice.
Against a backdrop of poverty, clannishness, drugs, and intolerance, Myracle has crafted a harrowing coming-of-age tale couched in a deeply intelligent mystery. Smart, fearless, and compassionate, this is an unforgettable work from a beloved author.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)
I know that I am a few reviews behind. I am trying to review in the order that I read books, but I just feel a NEED to spread the word about this particular book! I find this so funny because I'm not the Lauren Myracle reader in my house. That would be my daughter, Emma, and she is the main reason I picked this book up at all. You see, Lauren Myracle is one of those authors that writes both MG and YA novels, and not all of her books are appropriate for my (almost) 10 year old (this one is NOT, but I'll get to that later). When Emma found out she had a new book coming out, she begged me to buy it for her and I told her I would read it and let her know, so I guess I can thank her for one of my best reads so far this year, and possibly ever. I won't do that yet though. That would make her only want to read it more, and that would be torture for her over the next 4-5 years...
"So why do you feel the NEED to get the word out?", you ask. Well, for starters, it's a total page turner. It's one of those books that no matter what is going on around you, you cannot put it down. I got so sucked into this book I found myself thinking about it even when I had to put it down for basic human functionalities like going pee, making/eating meals, brushing my teeth, and showering. I actually took it to my six year old daughter's softball game and pretty much missed a nail-biting win to read... It's a mystery that keeps you guessing from the first page, but it is SO much more. Lauren Myracle manages to take a horrible event and make it a cathartic growing experience, not just for the protagonist, but also for the reader. When a book makes you look within yourself, you know it's a winner. The story is so heartbreaking, yet so beautiful. Honestly, it's beautiful cover (which is one that even my husband noticed and commented on) really does a great job capturing the essence of the story. The person responsible for the cover design at Amulet Books must have read this book and connected with it like I did, and so many other people will do. It's a book that will stay with me forever, much like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Outsiders.
This book is about a horrible hate crime against a gay teenage boy, Patrick, in a small backwoods NC mountain town. When I say horrible, it really is just awful. It still brings the taste of bile to my mouth when I think about it. The story isn't really about him though. It's about his childhood best friend, Cat, a 16 year old girl who had been struggling with her own demons for several years. Over the years, she had dropped all of her friends and isolated herself from everyone who loved her. When this happens to Patrick, she knows there's more to it than meets the eye and decides that maybe she needs to take matters into her own hands; find out the truth... Cat is a smart girl and she notices details most people would miss. She notices that her old group of friends, the same group that Patrick continued to be a part of when she dropped him, is acting funny and she feels an inescapable desire to get to the bottom of it. The problem is that everyone in the group either does not want to talk or seems to be scared to. This doesn't deter her. In fact, it just makes the fire in her burn hotter. While on her quest to find the truth and bring justice to Patrick's attackers, she realizes many truths about herself; truths she really doesn't want to face, but must in order to find the facts she needs. She also finds out that her small town harbors serious meth addiction issues and that many of her friends are involved. She is surprised to find out how wrong she is about some of her assumptions, while being dead on about others.
This book is such a detour from the books I'm used to reading by Lauren Myracle. I know her for her Winnie Years and Luv Ya Bunches MG series, and her Internet Girls YA series. All light, funny books, filled with humor and the anguish of being a girl. This book is not light, funny, or humorous. It's gritty, truthful, painful, beautiful, emotional, and raw. I found myself invested in the characters, feeling their pain and helplessness. I felt Cat's desperate wanting to have hope, while second guessing her right to have it. I felt the anguish of the people around her. The ones that helplessly had to stand by, watching those they loved spiraling down into the black hole of meth addiction, and those drowning in the black hole, feeling that meth was the only way to ever feel joy again.
I think that this is one of the rare YA books that adults would also love. In fact, I think that as an adult, I got so much more out of this book than I would have as a teenager. That's not to say that teens should not read this book. There are several important lessons in this book and I think it would make a great discussion book for a HS or college literature class.
My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Grade Level Recommendation: This is definitely a high school and up book (I would say ages 15+). I told my daughter she had to wait 5 years. There is graphic description of a violent hate crime against a gay teen, which I'm sure you can only imagine. There is also sexual assault (also rather graphic in it's description if it's read by a younger reader), rampant drug use, drinking, and violence beyond the assaults described before. This is not the type of "what if" violence in dystopian or fantasy fiction, but real violence, much of it domestic, of the ugly and violating sort- the type I wouldn't want a child to read about.