“This is not a ghost story, thought there are plenty of ghosts in it.
And it’s not a horror story, though some people might be horrified.
It’s not a monster story either, though there is a monster in it. And that monster happens to be me.”
I fell in love with Candy Gourlay’s writing with Tall Story. Unlike so many writers, she was able to marry her Filipino heritage with her England setting in such a way that it didn’t feel forced. Maybe because she never lost sight of how her story is about siblings who just happen to be Filipino. In her new book, though, I think Gourlay struggles with the made-up town of Mirasol. And I blame the story’s reliance on superstition and flashbacks.
In Shine, the author takes us to a town where people believe in monsters; and introduces us to Rosa, a girl made to believe that she was a monster because of a birth defect. The first chapter sets up this new world beautifully. And then, in the second chapter, it all goes to pieces. Mostly because there are three stories running simultaneously, and only one of them is handled well.
Plot number one: who you are versus who you say you are.
The most interesting premise of the book, I feel, is its plot about Rosa wanting to be seen as normal. And in a town where people are afraid of her because of how she looks and how she sounds, her only solace is the world wide web. A world where she can be whoever she wishes to be. A world where her looks won’t matter.At least, not at first.
Gourlay is a master at building up the suspense of Rosa making a friend online, and discovering that he lives in the same town as her. The friendship that grows between the two feels realistic, as well as they’re need to make actual physical contact. Unfortunately, this is where the ball gets dropped when it comes to their storyline.
The plight of Rosa’s friend is supposed to mirror hers. And it does that. But it also undermines everything that we were made to believe about Rosa’s town of Mirasol. Because the town painted to Rosa by her father and her nanny seems to discriminate against everyone with Rosa’s defect. And yet gives her friend a pass–until such time when the plot needs for him to be noticed.
Plot number two: who you are versus who you think you are.
Throughout the book, we are told the story of Rosa’s mother and her twin sister. Girls who are alike in so many ways–except one has a physical defect that forces her to stay at home. Making her envious of the twin who can leave the house. While making the non-defective twin envious of the girl who gets to spend more time with their parents, their loved one. The one who gets more, because she has less.
I liked this plot best because there is a clear progression of where the characters begin, of how they handle their problems, and of where they end up in their journey. And I love how none of the characters are purely good. They are human. They make mistakes. And they do their best to make the most of what they have.
Plot number three: who you are versus who you want to forget.
Interspersed between Rosa’s need to have a friend, and the story of how her mother met her father and lost a twin, is Rosa’s need to find closure for her mother’s death. And her obsession in seeing her mother’s ghost. But when the ghost does arrive, I feel like Gourlay doesn’t really know where to take the story.
So we get the mother’s twin instead.
The monster’s twin who is in love with Rosa’s father.
And, this is unclear, who might also be the reason why Rosa’s father won’t pack his things up, to move Rosa to somewhere where she won’t be judged. Where she can be normal.
Yeah, I don’t really understand this part. I get that Rosa’s father is a man who cares for people, but at the risk of his own daughter’s safety? The daughter who was almost killed by the superstitious folks of Mirasol? If I were the dad, I would’ve packed up my things and moved as soon as that happened.
It’s this plot that’s really bringing this book down for me.
That said, I do think the book’s great writing outweigh my concerns about the story. Shine is an engaging read, and it does bring up good points about image, and how perception plays a part into our lives. I just wish author Gourlay handled some parts of the book better than she did.