REVIEW by Maya Wood

NWR Issue 104


by Candy Gourlay

Shine is Candy Gourlay’s second novel and although I haven’t read her debut, I am genuinely impressed that she has so quickly found her voice. Her writing has a kind of individuality rarely found in such a new author, to the extent that I feel sure I could identify a piece of her writing even if it didn’t have her name on it. The novel is original too: I can honestly say that I’ve never read anything quite like it before. It’s also very difficult to categorise. I would broadly describe it as magical realism in the children’s/teenage group (although I don’t doubt that adults will also enjoy it), but it is so much more. Touching upon subjects from ghosts, friendship, loneliness through to family and disability, Shine laughs at those who try to fit it into any one genre.

The protagonist, Rosa, is a thirteen-year-old living on the (fictitious) Filipino island of Mirasol. Mirasol is defined by two things: the extreme superstition of its inhabitants, and the fact that it almost never stops raining there. (Ironically, the word ‘mirasol’ is Filipino for sunflower.) Rosa is afflicted by a mysterious disease known as the Calm, a condition that renders her mute and gives her welt-like scars around the neck, ‘ugly thickenings the texture of rope.’ The Calm is something that the islanders are particularly fearful of, meaning Rosa can’t go into public without a scarf around her neck lest she be attacked as a monster. She does all her socialising on the internet, and this is where she meets Ansel95, her first true friend.

Rosa’s narrative is interspersed with chapters told from her dead mother Kara’s perspective. These are addressed to Kat, the twin sister Rosa doesn’t even know Kara had, and as they go on we see that there is a lot Rosa doesn’t know about her family. We also see how much she misses her mother, from whom she inherited the Calm, who died suddenly and was cremated without a funeral. Rosa misses her so much, in fact, that for the past few years she has been desperately trying to bring back her mother’s ghost. Following a myth she once heard about ghosts being attracted to the ‘life force’ of a flame, she lights candles in the evenings and waits for a mother who may never appear.

The characters are portrayed well, and none better than Yaya, the housekeeper. By far my favourite, Yaya is a Mirasol native and one of the few who isn’t afraid of the Calm: although that’s not to say she isn’t just as superstitious as the rest. Far from it, Yaya is terrified of ghosts but loves nothing more than telling stories about them to Rosa. Yet Yaya is also a mother figure to the girl, providing the comfort and affection she seldom gets from anyone else.

I love to read novels set in other countries: the cheapest form of travel, in my opinion! I found Mirasol very easy to imagine and Candy Gourlay’s descriptions give the reader a real sense of the island’s atmosphere.

For all these good traits, there were a couple of things about Shine that I wasn’t quite so keen on. A key event towards the end of the story (which I won’t reveal) felt a little melodramatic and ever so slightly unbelievable. It also seemed to lack that unidentifiable quality that makes me truly fall in love with a novel, although I know that’s just personal. Overall, the book was a treat: an original, beautifully written and very enjoyable one.

Maya Wood is a teenage book lover who blogs at the Book Nook


previous review: His Last Fire
next review: Deaths of the Poets


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