Student Book Review: October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Leslea Newman

A large part of my Young Adult Literature II class requires my students to write book reviews.  They’ve been looking at multiple reviews, written by multiple bloggers to help find a style that suits them best.  Today’s student book review was written by one of my seniors, Sara.  I’ll try to post their reviews on a regular basis until the end of the school year.

October MourningTitle: October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard

Author: Lesléa Newman

Student Reviewer: Sara

Summary (From Goodreads):

WINNER OF A 2013 STONEWALL HONOR!

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.

October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Lesléa Newman is the best verse novel I have ever read.

This novel is based off of the, unfortunately, true story of a 21 year old, homosexual college student named Matthew Shepard. Matthew is out at the bar one night in October of 1998, in Wyoming. He is tricked by two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson. They convince him that they are gay as well and take him out to their truck. After he is in their truck, they drive in to a desolate place and beat the tar out of him. They beat him within an inch of his life and then left him to die, hung on a fence by a clothes line.

When I picked up this novel I thought, “This is going to be a boring documentary about a murdered man.” Boy, oh boy, was I wrong! It was indeed, about a man who was murdered but it’s not even close to being boring. This novel was the most attention grabbing, emotion jerking, amazing verse novel I have ever read, by far my favorite. It is beautifully written and it will make you feel something deep in your heart for Matthew Shepard, and all of the other people who have been brutally murdered for being gay.

This book is written in many different points of view and at first it confused me and I didn’t quite like it, but after I read the first 5 or 6 pages, I began to understand and then went back and read it again, this time understanding fully and I fell in love with the way that it’s written. I absolutely love how well all of the words just flow together and how she manages to capture every single emotion and thought of every object, person, and animal that she uses.

October Mourning: A song for Matthew Shepard is a very quick read; I finished it within an hour. But even though it’s a quick read, this chilling story will stick with you forever. I don’t think I will ever forget the descriptive, amazing poems in this novel. I will never forget the emotions I felt while reading this book, and I will never forget Matthew Shepard. His story will stick with me through out all of my life. I could read this book over and over and over again.

My favorite excerpt from this novel is as follows:

“THE FENCE
(that night)

I held him all night long
He was heavy as a broken heart
Tears fell from his unblinking eyes
He was dead weight yet he kept breathing

He was heavy as a broken heart
His own heart wont stop beating
He was dead weight yet he kept breathing
His face streaked with moonlight and blood

His own heart wouldn’t stop beating
The cold wind wouldn’t stop blowing
His face streaked with moonlight and blood
I tightened my grip and held on

The cold wind wouldn’t stop blowing
We were out on the prairie alone
I tightened my grip and held on
I saw what was done to this child

We were out on the prairie alone
Their truck was the last thing he saw
I saw what was done to this child
I cradled him just like a mother

Their truck was the last thing he saw
Tears fell from his unblinking eyes
I cradled him just like a mother
I held him all night long.”

Comments

  1. Excellent review. I’ve seen this cover on some lists of verse novels (which I love, though I haven’t read all that many yet – maybe 5), but hadn’t heard much about it other than that. I will definitely be looking into getting a copy of October Mourning now. I think the tragic story of what happened to Matthew Shepard fits the form of a verse novel perfectly, just as it does with “The Fence.” This is definitely a book I want to have on my classroom shelf. Thank you for sharing your review, Sara!

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