Release Date: September 25th 2012
Buy It: Book Depository
On the night of October 6, 1998, twenty-one-year-old college student 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 Leslea Newman. Shaken, the author addressed the large audience that gathered and remained haunted by Matthew's murder. October Mourning, a novel in verse, is her response to the events of that tragic day.There are some events that are so important to remember because of their complete horror, and the reminder that they serve not to let such things happen again. I think Matthew Shepard's brutal beating and murder, simply for being gay, is one of those events. In October Mourning, Newman reimagines what those final moments were like for Shepard, written from a variety of perspectives including inanimate objects like the fence he was tied to. It's both a collection of poetry and a novel-in-verse, as Newman says the book is meant to be read in order, and together it tells a definite story.
In some ways, Newman's style of telling the story reminded me of Ellen Hopkins, for her ways of playing with formatting, occasional rhyme, and even scattering words across a page when the poem called for it, like in "Stars". Despite its serious nature, October Mourning is a collection with a sense of humour, telling the events from the perspective of the road, the truck, or even the clotheslines (a poem which begins "They strung me along / I got tangled up").
The problem for me, was that the collection often seemed too concerned with being clever, like in "Once Upon a Time", where Newman begins "Once I hung out in bars / Now I hang out behind bars". Occasionally, it feels like she scarifies the raw emotion that is where October Mourning is most powerful, and swaps it out for a snappy ending like in "Raising Awareness", where she writes "It was gay awareness week / He was caught unaware".
Overall, October Mourning was great to see for a YA audience, but I did find some of the poems were a little too clever for their own good. While Shepard's murder is a horrific event that will always be engrained in my memory, I'm not sure I can say the same for Newman's book. The more emotional pieces in October Mourning, like "How to Have the Worst Day of Your Life", were good, but while the subject matter of the book was heart-breaking and important, from the perspective of a reader, I wanted more from the collection as a whole.