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Shiner by Amy Jo Burns

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This is Burns’ first novel and second book. Her first is a memoir, Cinderland, of growing up in a town she calls “Mercury, Pennsylvania.”  No such town exists, but it is said to be in the Pittsburg area. Much of this memoir centers around not only escape from the rustbelt but also escape from Mr. Lotte, a sexual predator and the web of secrets and lies that surround his actions.  This novel complements the memoir in portraying a town that the young seek to escape their home community and the secrets and lies behind patriarchal power there. Yes, the title is short for moonshiner, and one of the characters is a moonshiner. And the nearest town to the mountain where they live is called . . . Trap, West Virginia. The moonshiner, Flynn, is not as important a character as Briar, the father of the book’s protagonist, Wren Bird, and a serpent handling preacher. Yes, stereotypes abound, but the critics rave.  The Los Angeles Times calls it a “fierce novel about Appalachia [where] the handlers are worse than the snakes.”   Not surprisingly, in contrast, Ploughshares blames social structures more than their victims: “In short, Burns masterfully builds a web of tension by drawing together the frayed threads of these characters’ lives: the coal mine’s destruction of the land, the opioid epidemic, the limited access to medicine, and the lack of freedom women experience.” "Shiner is a book like a thunderstorm: weighty, emotional, romantic, and full of heat. It speaks to the energy and ambition of youth, in a voice unlike any we've seen before. Set in an Appalachian hillside that holds itself so remote it feels like a new civilization, Amy Jo Burns has introduced us to a world we will not soon forget. Her characters seek high truths and make hard choices, and they will linger in my mind for a long time to come."—Adrienne Celt. “This gorgeously written, plot-rich novel examines the complex lives of these five beautifully realized characters . . . Being set in Appalachia, it is no surprise that the novel is also about story and its gradual morphing into legend . . . This memorable first novel is exceptional in its power and imagination. It’s clearly a must-read.”— Booklist (Starred Review). 

New York: Riverhead/Penguin Random House, a 2021 first paperback reprint of a 2020 release. 272 pages with a two-page Reader’s Guide. Trade paperback.