Sunny Mann has done everything in her power to create a run-of the-mill life for herself in a quiet Virginian suburb. Her house is elegant, her friends are beautiful, and under her quiet supervision, no one ever goes without a casserole when a loved one is ill. But a minor fender bender between minivans sends her perfect blonde wig sailing out the window, exposing her true identity and threatening to crack her white picket fence existence wide open. Now, a meteor is coming, the local weatherman has gone mad, a murderous past has returned to life, her mathematical genius of a husband is helping his robots to stage an uprising on the moon, and it's up to Sunny to keep it all together. This gloriously inventive, funny novel is at once an intimate portrait of a very modern American family and a timeless love story. It's about the choices that make us human, the line between life and death, and is a captivating exploration of marriage, motherhood and self.
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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.About the Author:
Lydia Netzer was born in Detroit and educated in the Midwest. She lives in Virginia with her two home-schooled children and math-making husband. When she isn't working as a book doctor, blogging, or drafting her second novel, she writes songs and plays guitar in a rock band called The Virginia Janes.
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