Let's cut to the chase: I loved this book. I had no idea what I was getting into when I cracked the pages of SHINE SHINE SHINE and here I am a month later still processing all of the wonderfully full and flawed characters—some of who are on their way to the moon(!), others of who feel alienated right in the suburbs of their own planet.
Debut author Lydia Netzer was kind enough to answer a few questions about her terrific first novel for us. Read on, readers!
Q: You cover a lot of ground in SHINE SHINE SHINE from Burma to Virginia to Pennsylvania to the Moon (not to mention the past and the future)! Which setting did you have the most fun writing?
I grew up in Detroit, but we spent all our summers in the hills of western Pennsylvania, living in a decrepit old farmhouse on a dirt road. Of course, I loved this old farm, and I still do -- it’s June now and I’m answering these questions from the dining room -- panelled in wormy chestnut and full of weird antiques! The valley where Sunny and Maxon played as children is my valley, their creek is my creek, and the stump that’s shaped like a throne -- that was my mossy old stump throne. It was very satisfying to bring that setting into the book and put into words the way I felt about this place as a child. As an only child, I spent a lot of time dangling from the tire swing by myself, and often imagined a playmate arriving magically out of the woods, just as Maxon did for Sunny.
Q: Many of the characters in SHINE SHINE SHINE struggle to project an air of "normalcy," did you have any challenges writing scenes with such offbeat people?
I have yet to meet a person who is absolutely normal. I think normalcy is a construct. There are some people who do a pretty excellent job at burying their weirdness, but that doesn’t mean the weirdness isn’t there. These skilled social creatures, practiced at fitting in, collectively create a definition of what “normal” looks like and then others strive to match it. Or else they don’t. Some of us are less committed to passing for normal, and we let our weirdness out a bit, peel the lid off the crazy, off the angst and the exuberance. I’m sure people have good reasons for wanting to pass as normal and have others see them as acceptable. In fact, parenthood can really drive you in this direction -- toward stuffing down all your crazy and packing it away, presenting a very peaceful, unremarkable face to the world. No one sets out wanting to be the weirdo mom or the freak dad. It’s a status you have to come to grips with over time, sometimes after all attempts to disappear into normalcy have failed.
So to answer the question, I think there are offbeat people all around, and imagining what strange fancies lurked under the apparently normal skin of apparently average people was a very interesting project.
Q: If a Reader's Advisory librarian wanted to compare SHINE SHINE SHINE to a couple of other books or even movies on their shelves, which would you want them to pick?
I’d love to be compared to Katherine Dunn’s GEEK LOVE or Audrey Niffenegger’s THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE, or maybe Yann Martel’s LIFE OF PI or Mark Haddon’s THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME. There are sci-fi elements, like Kazuo Ishiguro’s NEVER LET ME GO or the movie THE ASTRONAUT’S WIFE. The book has quirks that make it strange, like Aimee Bender or Ben Marcus, but at its heart, it’s a simple story of true love, motherhood, and the most basic of human connections.
Q: If you could imagine the perfect scenario for a reader to be enjoying your book, what would it be?
I imagine a mom reading this book in a stolen hour while she’s waiting for the kids at karate class. Maybe she’s sitting in her car with the book in her lap, feeling like crap because she forgot to pack a healthy snack for dance camp and had to buy a Lunchable instead, or because the dog barfed on the baseball pants and possible she’s the only one that can see the outline of the barf stain but she knows it’s there. At some point in reading SHINE SHINE SHINE I hope she closes the book for a minute and says to herself, You know what, forget this elusive “Perfect Mom” measuring stick, and forget this comparing myself to everyone else. I’m a kick-ass mom, I own this job, and my kids are awesome.
I imagine a man reading this book on some high-tech device, who could get some satisfaction and encouragement from the fact that other people see human relationships as engineering problems, and don’t cry when people die, and count simple declarative sentences as poetry, and memorize what to say to their children. I’d like that man to know that a scripted response counts as heartfelt, and that you can be a great dad and husband and still never really know what to say, or how to say it. I don’t know if this book will ever find that guy, but maybe it’ll find someone who knows him.
Thank you for your time and thoughtful answers, Lydia! We can't wait to see SHINE SHINE SHINE on library shelves.