Friday, August 10, 2012

Review: Shine Shine Shine

Summary: When Maxon met Sunny, he was seven years, four months, and eighteen-days old. Or, he was 2693 rotations of the earth old. Maxon was different. Sunny was different. They were different together.

Now, twenty years later, they are married, and Sunny wants, more than anything, to be “normal.” She’s got the housewife thing down perfectly, but Maxon, a genius engineer, is on a NASA mission to the moon, programming robots for a new colony. Once they were two outcasts who found unlikely love in each other: a wondrous, strange relationship formed from urgent desire for connection. But now they’re parents to an autistic son. And Sunny is pregnant again. And her mother is dying in the hospital. Their marriage is on the brink of imploding, and they’re at each other’s throats with blame and fear. What exactly has gone wrong?

Sunny wishes Maxon would turn the rocket around and come straight-the-hell home.

When an accident in space puts the mission in peril, everything Sunny and Maxon have built hangs in the balance. Dark secrets, long-forgotten murders, and a blond wig all come tumbling to the light. And nothing will ever be the same.…

A debut of singular power and intelligence, Shine Shine Shine is a unique love story, an adventure between worlds, and a stunning novel of love, death, and what it means to be human. -- St. Martin's Press

If there's one book that is EVERYWHERE this summer, it's SHINE SHINE SHINE by Lydia Netzer. I can't remember the last time a book received this much positive praise. It seems like it's on every "best-of" list right now, and I can certainly see why. This novel is most definitely well-written and it does offer a unique glimpse and an unconventional love story. However, I didn't love it like I had hoped (or expected.)

At its heart, SHINE SHINE SHINE is a love story between Maxon and Sunny, two very different individuals who have known each other almost their entire lives. They first meet when they are young children and are brought together because of their status as outcasts. Maxon came from a bad family situation and found solace with Sunny, while Sunny was always treated differently because she was bald.

The story begins when Maxon, who is now a brilliant engineer, is on a rocket ship to the moon where he can program robots to create a new colony. Sunny is back at home with their autistic two year old son, pregnant with another child, and tending to her dying mother. Sunny is desperate to be normal -- to just fit in and find a sense of belonging; however, when she is in a car accident, she quickly realizes that her life is anything but ordinary and her marriage is at risk. And then things become much worse when another (much bigger) accident occurs in space. Maxon and Sunny realize that he may never come back home, and they both begin to see their lives and their relationship in a new light.

By all accounts, I should have loved SHINE SHINE SHINE; and while I did like it (at times a lot), I wasn't as excited about this novel as everyone else seems to be. I just hate it when that happens. I have to wonder if my expectations were a bit too high or if the novel just didn't resonate with me. The thing is, I do see why so many people are raving about this novel; and I agree that the writing is nothing short of spectacular. I can't help but be impressed with just how unique of a story this was. I don't know if any other author could pull off a love story with themes of autism, space travel, and alopecia.

It's hard to believe that SHINE SHINE SHINE is Ms. Netzer's debut novel because it is so well polished. The author did a wonderful job of highlighting some common themes about human nature and relationships, and I did love so much of her satire about love, marriage, and suburbia. I also enjoyed that I was surprised more than once by the direction the story took; and I especially appreciated how so much of the story was told in flashbacks to Maxon and Sunny's childhoods. This method of storytelling not only gave me an understanding of what these characters had been through together,  but also how they got to where they are now.

And Ms. Netzer's prose is gorgeous -- truly, truly special. I can assure you that there are many passages in this novel that will stop you in dead in your tracks. You might even be tempted to re-read them just to absorb how beautiful and insightful they are. It's definitely a skill to write such an original story with such quirky characters and have readers everywhere be able to relate to their feelings.

So why didn't I love SHINE SHINE SHINE? I have absolutely no idea because the book certainly has its fair share of merits. I have tried and tried to put my finger on it and I'm left shaking my head. I have to wonder if the uniqueness of the story and its characters that impressed me so much were also part of the reason that I didn't relate to the novel as much as I had hoped. I also think that there were some scenes that were almost mythical or fairy tale in nature, and those aren't usually my cup of tea. Having said that, I can assure you that this is a remarkable piece of fiction -- it just won't be one of my all-time favorite reads.

SHINE SHINE SHINE would definitely make an ideal book club pick. Without a doubt, it delves into some universal themes about family and love; and much of this story warrants further discussion. In addition, the characters of Sunny and Maxon are fascinating, and there are quite a few symbols to discuss as well. There is a reading guide available with twenty-four questions -- I told you there's a lot to talk about! Some of the themes you might want to explore include insecurities, parent/child relationships, autism, friendships, suburbia, appearances, marriage, love, loss, guilt, motherhood, acceptance, and forgiveness.

There is no doubt that SHINE SHINE SHINE is a beautiful book that offers a unique perspective on some universal themes. While I don't know that I'd go so far as to say I loved it, I can say that I most definitely appreciated it!

I received an ARC of this novel when I visited Aaron's Books in Lititz. You can listen to an excerpt from the audio book here.


Serena said...

This does sound very could be part of the reason why you didn't connect to the characters as much.

Sandy Nawrot said...

This is one of about 8 or 10 audios I have loaded on my iPod that is making me insane...because I want to listen to them all NOW. I think I'm going to need to do a post or something just so I can vent. But anyhow, Joshilyn Jackson narrates this one and that might make all the difference to me.

Beth F said...

I've been on the fence with this one because I'm worried it won't live up to the hype the myth/fairy tale parts are appealing to me but I'm usually not good with science fiction (trip to to the moon).