Sunday, November 17, 2013

Shine Shine Shine

Lydia Netzer’s debut novel, Shine Shine Shine, tells the quirky love story of two unique people destined for each other. Sunny Mann is a perfect wife, married to Maxon - a Noble prize-winning engineer currently on a NASA mission to the moon, a perfect mother to her autistic son, Bubber, and expecting a second child, as well as a perfect neighbor and friend. “She was a pro. When she moved to this town, said the neighbors, things fell into place. Barbecues were organized. Tupperware was bought…No one went without a meal on the day they had a sick child or root canal.” Unfortunately, the façade of perfection goes quite literally out the window when while driving home with Bubber from visiting her dying mother in the hospital, the car crash happened, and “while no one died, everyone’s life was changed.” For in “that tremulous moment, a perfect blonde wig flew off Sunny’s head, out the window, and landed in the street in a puddle full of leaves. Underneath the wig she was all bald…Her mother was dying, her husband was in space, her son was wearing a helmet because he had to and she was bald.” Sunny was born without hair and never grew any. No eyelashes, no eyebrows, no leg hair, nothing. No one had known except Maxon, her mother and Bubber.

With her secret finally revealed, Sunny finally “woke up out of her sleep” and allowed her true self to shine, and in doing so took stock of her life, including the fact that despite their love, her and Maxon were starting to lose their way, and the fact that her boy didn’t laugh on his own anymore. Beginning to right past wrongs, Sunny gets the unexpected news that there’s been an accident involving Maxon’s rocket which threatens the life and family they’ve built.

I loved these two wonderfully imperfect people – Sunny and Maxon – who were perfect for one another. Sunny is funny and strong and the perfect foil for Maxon, the genius neglected by his poor parents as a child who had to be taught by Sunny and her mom how to feel and act much like his robots, though no lessons were ever needed when it came to loving Sunny.

The books is mostly narrated by Sunny, interspersed with chapters from Maxon while on his moon mission, and through the use of flashbacks we learn of Sunny’s childhood in Burma and later in Pennsylvania (where she meets Maxon), her teens and carefree college years far from home, and ultimately the journey which brings her back to where she always belonged, in Maxon’s arms. Interwoven with Sunny and Maxon’s tale are also dark secrets revealed from their past that though not pivotal to the story offer insight into each character and the events that shaped them.

The narrative involving Maxon’s innocent courtship of Sunny were my favorites. He was so wonderfully endearing in his awkwardness that you couldn’t help but root for him. In truth some of their interactions reminded me of Forrest and Jenny from Forrest Gump. Maxon falls in love with Sunny at the tender age of seven and from then on his love is on a cosmic-level, beyond this earth, for he says “if the planet was spun like a top, and stopped suddenly, and he was asked to point her out, that he could do it…she would be there like a red balloon in an asteroid belt. She was the only one, ultimately in the whole world who mattered. She was the only one he would have known anywhere.” What made him so dear was that despite the eloquence and romanticism of his thoughts, his actual delivery left a lot to be desired, like his opener before proposing marriage, “Sunny are you all finished with having sex with other men?” I loved Maxon, quirks and all, because despite his foibles he was at peace with himself; sure in who he was and his true worth, and not concerned with what people thought of him.

I was as captivated by the book’s message, as by its love story. It’s a book that reminds its readers that it’s all right to be different or flawed, as deemed by society's standards, and that there’s truly no such thing as perfect or normal. Sunny’s plight is relatable. Who can’t understand and commiserate with Sunny’s need to fit in? Who hasn’t tamped down their inner geek to fit in with the cool kids? The term "normal" is relative, and in truth we all know someone who figuratively “puts on a wig” to hide or disguise the baldness in their life. None of us are perfect; we are all flawed human beings for whom perfection is impossibility, and we’d all be the happier if we reminded ourselves of that more frequently.

Shine Shine Shine is a funny, compelling and poignant story that asks us to be a little brave and embrace the differences that make us unique and human. A sweet, witty love story with characters I won’t soon forget.