Monday, February 25, 2013

October Mourning, by Leslea Newman

Title:  October Mourning
Author:  Leslea Newman
Publisher:  Candlewick
Year:  2012
Pages:  128
Genre:  Poetry
Themes:  Social Justice
Age Range:  7th Grade and Up

Summary:  from Goodreads
On the night of October 6, 1998, a gay twenty-one-year-old college student named Matthew Shepard was lured from a Wyoming bar by two young men, savagely beaten, tied to a remote fence, and left to die. Gay Awareness Week was beginning at the University of Wyoming, and the keynote speaker was Lesléa Newman, discussing her book Heather Has Two Mommies. Shaken, the author addressed the large audience that gathered, but she remained haunted by Matthew’s murder. October Mourning, a novel in verse, is her deeply felt response to the events of that tragic day. Using her poetic imagination, the author creates fictitious monologues from various points of view, including the fence Matthew was tied to, the stars that watched over him, the deer that kept him company, and Matthew himself. More than a decade later, this stunning cycle of sixty-eight poems serves as an illumination for readers too young to remember, and as a powerful, enduring tribute to Matthew Shepard’s life.

This year, the elementary literacy coordinator for my school district (and good friend!) included the list of Stonewall Awards winners in her yearly round-up from the American Library Association.  This fact in and of itself-that a district-wide newsletter about award winning books for children and young adults should include the winner in the LGBT category-highlights exactly why Matthew Shepard deserves to be remembered.  It's been 15 years since he was beaten and tied to a fence, all for the fact of being gay, and in that time our country has changed enormously in regards to how gays and lesbians are perceived and portrayed in our society.  Matthew Shepard wasn't an activist, he didn't set out to change the culture, but what happened to him in a small city in Wyoming touched the hearts and minds of the nation.

Newman's poems are haunting, brutal, lyrical, painful, and hopeful in turns.  At varying times during the cycle she becomes the fence, the police, the parents, the killers, and the nation.  I was frequently brought to tears by the imagery she creates, based on the actual accounts of people familiar with the crime and with Matthew himself.  Newman, a pioneer in writing about gay themes for children, has given us in October Mourning a set of poems that can help to educate a new generation of youth into the circumstances of Shepard's life and death, and the profound impact that it had on the rest of us.  The world has changed so fast, and children and youth growing up today may have no idea how we got here...Newman's poems reflect a part of our shared history-albeit a painful one-that should never be forgotten.

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