Author: Leslea Newman
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: September 25th, 2012
Genre/Format: Historical Fiction/Novel-In-Verse
GoodReads Summary: A masterful poetic exploration of the impact of Matthew Shepard’s murder on the world.
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.
What Jen Thinks: I'm sad to say I only vaguely remember hearing about Matthew Shepard in 1998. I was a freshman in college then. I'm glad Leslea Newman is telling his story now. She not only brings Matthew Shepard's story to life, but that of so many others in the world near him and around his story through her poems. This work is such an excellent example of personification because she writes from the perspective of the fence, the moon, the road, the truck, a deer and so many others on that night. She has imagined so much of that night through her poems and brought them so perfectly to life for readers. The story is sad enough, but these poems truly made me realize the extent of how horrible it really was. What I think is so important is the message of thinking about your actions. Matthew Shepard was very trusting of the two guys who picked him up. If only he had thought twice about leaving with them. There are so many "if only..." stories told in this book and I hope it encourages readers to think about decision they make. It's sad that we have to teach kids to be wary of others in this world, but at the same time, it's reality. In my mind, there can never be too many books that help us see the world from someone else's perspective. Through books like this we learn about ourselves and learn about others.
What Kellee Thinks: I was a junior in high school at a fine arts school of choice when Matthew Shepard was murdered. My two best friends were both gay. I remember that they were afraid of going anywhere alone after Matthew was killed. We cried for him. However, over time Matthew has become one of a way too big statistic. Though his horrendous death got a lot of press, hate crimes on gay, lesbian, queer, transgendered, bisexual and transsexual people happen daily.
Leslea Newman takes us into the night of Matthew's death. Her poetry examines the smallest detail of the night (the buck lying near Matthew) to the motives behind his murder. The poems' narrator range from the fence he was found tied to to his mother to the murders to the reactions of the gay community. It shows how this crime affected a nation of people and what we can learn from it.
Not only is this a story that needed to be told to young adults, but it is done in a beautiful novel-in-verse. Also, she makes sure to make the poetry accessible- she added "Notes" and "Explanation of Poetic Forms" for each poem. Each poem was set up so methodically and were based on truths. Both of these elements make it even more powerful.
Read Together: Grades 8 - 12
Read Alone: Grades 9 - 12
Read With: Please Excuse Vera Dietz by A.S. King, Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan, Tricks by Ellen Hopkins, Columbine by Dave Cullen, I am J by Cris Beam, Boyfriends with Girlfriends by Alex Sanchez, Shine by Lauren Myracle
Snatch of Text:
Then and Now
Then I was a son
Now I am a symbol
Then I was a brother
Now I am an absence
Then I was a friend
Now I am a memory
Then I was a person
Now I am a headline
Then I was a guy
Now I am a ghost
Then I was a student
Now I am a lesson
(p. 41)Mentor Text For: Perspective, Rhythm, Repetition, Alliteration, Personification, Poetry
Writing Prompts: Write about a time in your life when you did something that you regretted or that you learned from after the experience. Write a poem from the point of view of an object looking at a situation.
Topics Covered: Life, Death, Decision-Making, Choices, LGBTQ, Prejudice, Racism, People, Family, Teen Issues, Trust, Hate Crimes
Jen and Kellee *heart* It: