OCTOBER MOURNING by Lesléa Newman could be described by a lot of words that are overused in book reviews. “Harrowing” for example certainly describes the book. “Spare” describes the verse. But neither of these words live up to what Lesléa Newman’s book really is. If I had to choose one word it might be “essential”. After reading this book I wonder how I ever understood the murder of Matthew Shepard without it.
Who would think that asking yourself “how did the fence feel?” would give you extraordinary insight into this tragic event? But Newman makes the fence’s point of view not only valid, but crucial, as though the story is incomplete without it. This is the case for all the myriad characters in this book, including the bartender, a passing doe and both of Matthew’s killers.
For such a notorious crime, one with such widespread ramifications, at first this might seem a short book, too short to fully encapsulate the story. But what Newman accomplishes with her book is something like a mathematical miracle, wherein the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is certainly an effect of the audacious creativity of the poetic forms. OCTOBER MOURNING includes a wide range of styles and techniques including lists, haiku, rhyming couplets, found poetry and villanelles. But the assortment of points of view is the genius in this collection. Perhaps the most affecting poems come from inanimate objects, such as the fence on which Matthew languished for eighteen hours, the clothesline with which he was bound, and the truck his killers drove.
As the fence itself says:some of them touch me in unexpected ways
I expected to be moved by OCTOBER MOURNING, because of the subject matter. I expected to enjoy reading it, because I love verse novels. What I got from reading it that I did not expect was a much deeper understanding of not only this hideous crime, but why and how Matthew Shepard’s death became a symbol of the struggle for LGBT rights throughout the world.
OCTOBER MOURNING is described as a book for young adults but I feel that adults and mature middle grade readers will find it as terrific as I did. 5/5 stars.
I received an ARC of OCTOBER MOURNING from the publisher, Candlewick. I’ll be giving away this ARC next month so watch this space!