A heartfelt thank you, thank you, thank you to Audiobook Jukebox and Macmillan Audio for sharing Shine Shine Shine with the Literary Hoarders. What a wonderful story, and what a marvelously written debut novel!
First, I must warn you not to be fooled by the simplistic phrase “epic love story.” To do so would be to grossly underestimate this book’s charm, and its power to resonate. This was, for me, more than a love story. It swelled and burst with life, and the characters surged from the story with brilliance and enviable candor. I struggle now to recall a key person in this novel that I did not want to meet. Each one was deliciously complex, and beautifully flawed.
Shine Shine Shine orbits around Sunny and Maxon Mann, childhood best friends who eventually married and had a child of their own (affectionately nicknamed “Bubber”). Sunny, now pregnant with her second child, has shoehorned herself and her little family into Virginia’s ideal version of suburbia. These three exhaust themselves fitting in to the perfect Stepford small-town.
Alas, they are different. Sunny, born in Burma during a full eclipse, was born strong-willed, wildly intelligent, and completely hairless. Sunny is bald, has no eyelashes, eyebrows or hair of any kind. In order to fit in to her perfect world, Sunny has disguised herself with a beautiful blonde wig, and an impeccable taste in craft fairs. Paired with her pretty cardigans and granite countertops, Sunny passes as everywoman, and blends beautifully with her surroundings.
Maxon (hands down my favorite character) is a genius. His off-the-charts brilliance has him working for NASA. As the book kicks off, Maxon is on his way to the moon, for the purposes of robot colonization. Having been coached how to behave properly by Sunny and Sunny’s mother, Maxon knows when to nod, grimace, respond quietly, or offer scripted condolences. Typically equipped with an erasable marker, Maxon is always ready to solve any of life’s problems with striking mathematical accuracy (and a completely stoic demeanor). If you’re not crazy about Maxon by the halfway mark, then you’re not reading carefully enough. Would love to give the man a bear hug, but chances are excellent that he would have no clue what to do with it. Besides, he only has eyes for Sunny.
Bubber is an autistic child. Thanks to Sunny’s effort to control his outbursts, head-banging, and repeated jabbering, he’s heavily medicated. Bubber must fit in too, just like his father. His preschool would like Sunny and Maxon to consider more medication. They don’t like what happens when Bubber doesn’t “get the blue chair” during art class. They aren’t equipped to deal with… difference.
And then one day, there’s a fender bender in this quiet town, and just as Sunny’s airbag goes off, the wig flies out the window, and into a puddle. Her neighbors see her for the first time. Really see her.
And that’s when the story actually starts. You are then privy to everything from the courtship of Sunny’s mother, to early life in Burma, to a move to the U.S. where a chance meeting with a neglected child from down the street pairs Sunny with the man of her dreams. There are secrets, longings, love in its purest form, and yes, even a little bit of murder. See? I told you it wasn’t just a love story.
Truly, however, I understand this classification. Because this book is love. Love through pain, through differences… love between husband and wife…love between parent and child. It’s also love and acceptance of one’s true self, which is no small feat.
Lydia Netzer’s writing is remarkable. On more than one occasion, I was pretty convinced that she too must be an astronaut. How else could she describe Maxon’s complexities with such agility? How could she hop from discussing robotics, to the umbrella of autism, and then over to the pain of saying goodbye to an ailing parent? She made it seem so effortless. Of course, it isn’t.
I could keep waxing rhapsodic about Shine Shine Shine, but instead, I’ll recommend that you get your copy today. I promise that you’ll be taken aback by Lydia Netzer’s intellect, and her gift for telling a unique and unparalleled story. If you happen upon the audiobook version, I also promise that Joshilyn Jackson will do justice to the characters, with affection and understanding. I was surprised at this narrator’s pitch at first, but she then became the perfect fit for everyone in the book.
4.5 enthusiastic stars for Shine Shine Shine, and a plea for Lydia Netzer to hurry and publish a second!