Monday, October 3, 2011

The Black Creek Project

by Lauren Myracle

I devoured this book in one sitting about a week ago for my first book club meeting here in Pittsburgh. At least for the time being, our plan is to read buzz books for the upcoming Newbery and Printz awards, and this was a selection for the latter.

Cat is a sixteen year-old girl in a tiny North Carolina backwater. Her best friend, Patrick, is an effeminate loner who was raised by his grandmother (until her recent death). The book begins with a newspaper article detailing a horrible hate crime committed against Patrick in which he was knocked unconscious by a baseball bat and tied to the gas pump at the station where he worked as a clerk, a gas nozzle stuffed down his throat with a note reading "Suck on this faggot" nearby. He is in a coma, and the local police seem to be doing little to find the culprit. Cat decides to take matters into her own hands and solve the mystery.

Ms. Myracle did a good job in detailing what life in a rural Southern town is like: kids dropping out of school, teen pregnancies, drug abuse problems, bigotry. I particularly liked the ladies who attended church to gossip rather than worship, as well as the portrayal of a closeted athlete and his self-denial. The pacing was brisk, while still managing to tie up the various plot threads by the end, but the writing was just adequate.

My major qualm with this book is that the hate crime committed against Patrick is really just a vehicle to discuss the destructive power of drugs, namely meth. I was expecting an LGBT book, and this doesn't quite fit the bill. This is an anti-drug book. While I don't think the hate crime angle would have worked properly if Patrick hadn't been a gay character, I am rather bothered that he was used in such a degrading manner to tell a compelling story. It reminds me a bit of the "women in refrigerators" from 90's era comics.

Given its subject matter, I can understand why Shine was chosen as a buzz book. I do not feel, however, that it is worthy of winning the Printz medal, as the material could have been handled better by a more capable writer. I'll be the first to admit it's a good read, but this is of the page-turner best-seller variety, not the literary award variety.

Grade: B

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