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Shine Shine Shine Hardcover – July 17, 2012
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The Amazon Book Review
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, July 2012: What is a "normal" life? For Sunny, it means wearing a blond wig (she’s been bald since birth), medicating her autistic son (who wears a helmet because he bangs his head against walls), and teaching her brilliant but socially clueless husband, Maxon, how to interact with other humans (they whiteboard equations so he knows how to respond to compliments). When Sunny’s wig falls off during a car accident, exposing her bare head to her neighbors for the first time, she starts to realize that this "normal" life she has built is actually a huge problem. Everything about Shine, Shine, Shine is charmingly odd, full of feeling, and beautifully written. Lydia Netzer has created a cast of characters so unique and surprising, you want to follow their story long after it ends. These are real people making real choices about their lives--even if those lives are different from everyone else’s. This is a superb debut. --Caley Anderson
Books to Read in Trees: An Amazon.com Exclusive Essay from Lydia Netzer
When I was a child, I read in a tree.
My favorite reading spot was 20 feet above the ground, in a natural seat formed by the branches of an enormous pine tree. I often scuffed my knees on the climb up, book shoved into my waistband, fingernails dirty with the sap I absently picked at while I read. Raised by two school teachers with jobs in Detroit, I only had access to my reading tree during summer vacations.
In Detroit, we lived in a condo, we went to the library, and I read material the library deemed appropriate for children: Judy Blume, Marguerite Henry, Madeleine L'Engle, Susan Cooper. In Pennsylvania, in the summer, we lived on this isolated old family farm, and I read the only material my mother deemed appropriate for humans: 19th century British literature.
It was tough getting those lousy hardbacks to stay in my waistband all the way up the tree, but I managed to stick it out through George Eliot, most of Dickens, Ivanhoe, and the Brontes. American lit was off the table, even the stuff from 100 years ago. Harpoonists sweating half-naked over oars? Lusty puritans cavorting in the northern woods? Extracted heart throbbing in the baseboards? Forget it. I guess my mother figured out that if I could wring any damaging sexual content out of The Mayor of Casterbridge, or if I still wanted to procreate after stomaching the gloom of The Mill on the Floss, there was nothing she could do.
I know it wasn't all prudishness. She was proud of my willingness to put away the horse books and sci-fi for the summer, and delve into something toothier and challenging, that I could only wrestle with in the absence of school, and the city. In the company of trees and the occasional woodpecker I could pine for those lordlings and bold orphans, and fear consumption and workhouses and the disapproval of maiden aunts.
Now I've sent my son and daughter up that same tree, with Percy Jackson novels or American Girl books tucked into their belts. I did not inherit the wary eye with which my mother viewed books written by Americans, but I did take away the sense that for me, summers are reserved for braver reading. Summers are for books that stretch you, for cracking open the unknown, and having the mental space to immerse.
This summer, I will not be reading Thackeray, okay? Sorry, mom. I'll now admit that reading The History of Henry Esmond made me want to walk into the sea in despair. But this summer when I pack to go to the farm, I'll be loading up with books that are big and unfamiliar, like Ben Marcus' The Flame Alphabet, books I need space to comprehend, like Robert Goolrick's Heading Out to Wonderful, books that are best devoured in the big uninterrupted chunks of time that only vacation from regular life can give me, like Chris Cleave's Gold. And I might just climb that reading tree myself this year, to see what big ideas may linger.
“Not only entertaining, but nuanced and wise…blending wit and imagination with an oddly mesmerizing, matter-of-fact cadence, Netzer's debut is a delightfully unique love story and a resounding paean to individuality.” ―People (People Pick)
“Netzer's storytelling method is as poetic as her language. She slowly assembles a multitude of pinpoint insights that converge to form a glimmering constellation...a stellar, thought-provoking debut” ―The New York Times Book Review
“Over the moon with a metaphysical spin. Heart-tugging…it is struggling to understand the physical realities of life and the nature of what makes us human….Nicely unpredictable…Extraordinary.” ―Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“You're pulled into the drama through the incredible natural beauty of her writing … deftly and wittily done … people say her style reminds them of Anne Tyler, but she reminded me a little bit more of Don DeLillo.” ―Liesl Schillinger, The New York Times Book Review Podcast
“Entirely winning…a refreshingly weird story about the exuberant weirdness of familial love.” ―The Wall Street Journal
“Netzer deftly illuminates the bonds that transcend shortcomings and tragedy. Characterized by finely textured emotions and dramatic storytelling, Netzer's world will draw readers happily into its orbit.” ―Publishers Weekly
“Netzer has beautifully crafted an original story with a cast of characters who make up an unconventional but strangely believable family...This story will shine, shine, shine for all adult readers.” ―Library Journal, starred review
“The novel traces Maxon and Sunny's relationship from their childhoods in Burma and Appalachia to outer space, revealing the futility of chasing an ideal of what's normal…Shine Shine Shine breaks free of the gravitational pull of traditional romantic clichés.” ―The Washington Post
“Lydia Netzer's luminous debut novel concerns what lies beneath society's pretty surfaces -- Sunny's congenital hairlessness, her husband's remoteness, their son's autism. What makes it unexpectedly moving is how skillfully Netzer then peels back those layers, finding heartbreaking depth even in characters who lack ordinary social skills.” ―The Boston Globe
“Netzer has penned a modern take on alienation, building a family, making connections -- creating memorable characters and an odd, idiosyncratic, but highly believable narrative along the way.” ―The Toronto Star
“Netzer uses [Sunny and Maxon] to explore the limits of love, family and what it is that makes us human and to create a tale that is utterly compelling and original.” ―Chatelaine
“There are certain novels that are just twisty, delightfully so. Shine Shine Shine is one. In this first novel, Lydia Netzer takes a hard look at being completely human through the eyes of two people who are kinda not…Shine Shine Shine may ask an old question. But Netzer's answer to how to be who you are is fresh from the heart.” ―New York Daily News
“Netzer's first novel, the wacky, touching and deliciously readable Shine Shine Shine, draws heavily on her own unconventional life…this unassuming novelist… is the ‘it' girl of contemporary literature.” ―Kerry Dougherty, The Virginian Pilot
“[Sunny and Maxon's] peculiarities form an endearing story in Shine Shine Shine, Norfolk resident Lydia Netzer's first -- and amazingly inventive -- novel. . . . Netzer's munificence of spirit lights her story with compassion. . . . Shine Shine Shine transcends not only geography, whether in Burma, Pennsylvania, Norfolk or outer space, but also the science and the struggles, the weirdness and the woe; it aims straight for the heart and the humanity that unites us all. Netzer, whose imagination knows no limits, infuses her debut with love -- and reminds us that normalcy can be vastly overrated.” ―The Richmond Times-Dispatch
“This is a novel about the strangeness of being human. Lydia Netzer says she wrote it when she was pregnant with her first child and feeling "paralysed with fear that I was too weird, too self-absorbed, too unskilled to have a child, and that whatever baby had the bad luck to be born of my uterus would be permanently scarred by my failings". Hopefully, she feels better now. Or at least, a lot less alone in her imagined weirdness. After meeting Sunny and Maxon, I know I do.” ―The Independent
“Shine Shine Shine is a novel…but "Shine, Shine, Shine" could easily refer to Netzer's writing abilities, the way she handles the craft of storytelling, and the way her novel captures and holds the reader's attention…Netzer is a master storyteller. She leads the reader through a landscape full of beauty and charged with pitfalls, actual and emotional, while holding your eyes to the page, and your fingers itching to turn to the next page.” ―Sparkling Diversity column, The Virginian Pilot
“At its considerable heart, Shine Shine Shine is about birth, and as such it is profoundly a feminine novel. Netzer keeps the novel nicely balanced and accessible to male readers, however, by dissociating birth from purely biological terms and recasting it as psychological, spiritual, sexual and technological. It's a heady plateful to be sure, but Netzer handles it with a strong voice.” ―Brent Andrew Bowles, The Virginian Pilot
“I can't say enough good things about Shine Shine Shine, and it's almost impossible to put the book down once you crack it open. Well-paced, well-plotted, and told with a fresh, lyrical and bold narrative style, Netzer's debut novel is compelling, smart, strange and enjoyable. It shines as brightly as Sunny's bald head and the luminous stars Maxon sees in space.” ―Sarah Rachel Egelman, TheBookReporter.com
“Shine Shine Shine is an exquisitely written debut novel about family. All of Netzer's characters are quirky and unique, as well as damaged. Not every novel features a bald Caucasian woman, born in Burma, who is married to a rocket scientist on the autism spectrum. Even so, Shine Shine Shine is never quirky for the sake of quirkiness -- Sunny, Maxon and all of the supporting characters are fully fledged and realistic so that they draw the reader in almost immediately with their strong and life-like voices. A story of personal growth and discovery that is unlike any you have read before, Shine Shine Shine will not fail to entertain and move you.” ―SheKnows.com
“A funny, compelling love story from the freshest voice I've heard in years. Shine Shine Shine picked me up and left me changed in ways I never expected. Intelligent, emotional, and relentlessly new, Netzer answers questions you didn't know you were already asking and delivers an unforgettable take on what it means to love, to be a mother, and to be human.” ―Sara Gruen, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Water for Elephants and Ape House
“From the icy dead surface of the moon to the hot center of the human heart, Lydia Netzer's debut novel takes you on a rocket ride that will rattle your bones. Part science fiction, part pure magic of the human kind, Netzer makes a book that is wholly her own, and endlessly fascinating. At every turn, you think she cannot astonish you again, and then she does it one more time. And then again and again and again. This is an astounding first novel by a writer who is unique in her immense gifts.” ―Robert Goolrick, #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Reliable Wife
“Creating one of the most compelling protagonists I've read in a long time, Lydia Netzer manages to capture the outsider in each of us. Whether looking at the moon, a child, the suburban landscape, or the face in the mirror, Netzer shows us something we've never seen before, something we thought we knew. A beautifully written story where the exception proves the rule: the things that seem to divide us are, ultimately, the very things that unite us.” ―Brunonia Barry, New York Times bestselling author of The Lace Reader and The Map of True Places.
“A perfectly structured gem of a book that held me spellbound as I unraveled the twisted histories of this unconventional family. You've never read anything like it, and yet Sunny's story is every woman's story. We are all outsiders, all alone in space, all trying so hard to find a place called home. I loved this book.” ―Joshilyn Jackson, New York Times bestselling author of Gods in Alabama and Backseat Saints
“An astronaut, an autistic child, a bald woman and a meteor collide, churning up the ground around a couple of decades-old murders. Life and death intersect in this wildly inventive love story I will be talking about and thinking about for years to come. If Yann Martel and Mary Gaitskill had a literary baby, it would look a lot like Lydia Netzer.” ―Karen Abbott, New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second City and American Rose
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But I just don't understand why authors feel such a need to be so obscene and vile with the language. This story could be beautiful--without the language. I realize that this is a personal preference, but it took away from the power of the story for me. Why does the f-word have to be used? Why do young people always have to be so horny? Whatever happened to young people just being young people? Maybe I'm naive and more young people have sex than I am aware of or was ever aware of when I was growing up, but why is the sex between Sunny and Maxon when they were teens so important to the story??? Without it, I GOT that they BELONGED to one another and nothing could change that--including years apart.
Normally, I don't mind the time shifts where we start in the present and go back in time and so on and so forth, but this just got out of hand. There are quite a few flashbacks that are completely unnecessary unless it's actually the current time stories that are completely unnecessary.
So, does Maxon make it home, by some grand NASA miracle??? Or is that wishful thinking as he's running out of air again????
I liked SHINE SHINE SHINE, but I didn't like it. I liked it enough to say that I'm glad I read it and considering the fact that it is my understanding that Lydia Netzer wrote the first draft during NaNo, I admire her and the story from that perspective even more. One of these days, I'll do something with one of my NaNo manuscripts and maybe Lydia will return the favor and read mine. :) I'll recommend the book to others, certainly. I just wish I didn't have to wade through the language and the sexual content. Not all modern readers "enjoy" that in the books they choose.
HOWEVER, the synopsis I originally read did not do me any justice because the book I read didn't follow through as...interesting in terms of pace. Sure the characters are very interesting and I love the overall story of their nerd love. I'm a bit of a nerd myself so I liked her inclusion of equations and descriptions of their "strange" interactions with each other. This book was great in the sense that it highlighted a relationship that you don't see all the time, if ever and is not one you're going to get to see behind the curtain so-to-speak in real life.
That said to say the book is sci-fi, and about astronauts and space is very misleading; this may give the reader the sense that this is really a book about going into space in a more active sense than what really occurs. Maxxon, the husband (who may be autistic), is a genius who goes into space but those scenes are very muted and not very interesting. Instead you end up feeling like the story is more about Sunny and more about their relationship than anything to do with Maxon colonizing the moon using his super robots. It's kind of like those previews you see for movies with a lot of crazy CGI then when you watch the movie you find out that all the good parts were in those previews and there was little more to witness.
To cut my review short I think this book would have been better served being a novella rather than a 336 page novel, although I read the kindle edition. I don't ever consciously quit a book otherwise I would have given up. Reading this for me seemed to take forever and I couldn't wait to stop to be honest. Then when the book did come to an end there was really no conclusion and certainly not a climax. I don't know if she plans a sequel to this but, no offense, I wasn't interested enough to read another installment like this, way too drawn out. There were many, many scenes that held my attention and I did like Sunny quite a bit and Lydia is a good writer but the story rambles on a lot to where those scenes and moments that got my attention quickly get worn out. And this happens a lot. What happened to me as well was that there's so much going on in this story with the characters' personal lives which is really well developed and the flashbacks to their childhood together, that you wind up waiting and waiting to reach a peak or for the story to turn and twist and do something more than just be interesting and unique. You wait for something to happen and it never really does.
So I loved the ingredients of this book but the overall recipe was very watered down without much punch or kick even though we get teased into thinking their will be, even from a romantic sense nothing is delivered. What does Sunny's new baby really look like, is she bald like Sunny? Does Maxxon ever make it home? Is Bubber, their autistic son, better off his medication overall? Does he improve? Now that Sunny has gone on to stop wearing her wig will she stop trying to be the cliche perfect housewife? Will she and Maxon's relationship grow and blossom now? Do these characters grow? What happens with Les Weathers now that we see he was losing his mind a bit? Does Maxon give up his dream to colonize the moon? (I ask these but unless a sequel was written very differently I couldn't bear this again to want to find out, took too long when I have so many other things to do.) The flashbacks are insightful but also drawn out and there isn't really too much extra to gain from them other than the couple's backstory which is well put together, touching, unique.
Sometimes I liked reading this, a lot of times it felt super slow and not worth the time. Unique story for sure, too long. Interesting, original characters, too much time in their head. Great idea, I don't think it was executed as well as it could be. But from a technical stand point it was written pretty good.