Lauren Myracle is back with a dark mystery, revolving around a hate crime in a small, Southern town. It's really amazing to see the tremendous scope of writing Myracle is capable of--from lighthearted teen girl drama in the Internet Girls series, to the horror story in Bliss, to this new mystery. Personally, I think she should stick with the latter two, as there are so few writers out there capable of pulling off such captivating, deep writing so well. I've owned this book for a while, but it wasn't until the recent kerfuffle with the Wall Street Journal article that I decided to read the book. The article singled out Myracle's novel for its content, claiming that it is too dark for teen readers. While there are more drug references than you'll find in most other YA novels, I actually learned that meth use/abuse is pretty rampant in small Southern towns, which I never knew before. It becomes a key factor in the events of the story, so its inclusion in the story isn't just for the sake of giving the story an edge. (And the drug certainly isn't glorified, much the opposite.) This could easily turn into a whole rant at the wrongful accusations in the article, but that's a rant best saved for another day. I will leave a link to Lauren Myracle's rebuttal, though, for your reading pleasure.
The greatest thing about this novel is that unlike most mysteries, everything isn't clear-cut. Lauren Myracle truly imagines her characters complexly, showcasing all sides of the story rather than sticking with a black/white dichotomy, instead opting for the good, the bad, and the blurry. I do have a bit of an issue to take with the ending. The writing was spectacular, and the story was an important one to tell. I do think that it is important to note that not all hate crimes are perpetrated by the stereotypical latent homosexual struggling with self-hatred towards their own identity. Some legitimately are a result of complete ignorance. It's an important distinction to make. I also don't think Beef should have died. It served as the poignant ending it was intended to be, but I don't like the message being sent--conveniently killing off the most conflicted character rather than opting for battling ignorance/self-hatred with knowledge and love. He could have been sent to rehab instead, offering hope for those who are lost and struggling.