October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Lesléa Newman
Published: September 25th 2012 by Candlewick
Source: local library
Synopsis (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.
My thoughts: I was in 9th grade when the story of Matthew Shepard’s murder made national news and started a conversation about hate crimes and tolerance, but the high school freshman I work with at the library weren’t yet born. Which is kind of hard for me to wrap my head around. In some ways, there has been a lot of progress, but there is still so much intolerance in the world.
I’m not generally drawn to novels in verse, but this reads more like a collection of poems than a verse novel. Newman employs a variety of forms, from free verse to Haiku to concrete poems. Each has a title and takes a specific point of view. In addition to the ones noted in the above synopsis, there are pieces from the perspective of Matthew’s heart, the stars, and one of the killer’s girlfriends, just to name a few. Though each piece is distinct, they are united with the clear, concise, and sparse style that not only resonated with me personally, but I imagine would also appeal to many teens.
October Mourning would be perfect for classroom use. Newman includes historical information for context and other resources at the end, and I would encourage readers unfamiliar with Matthew Shepard’s story to read this section first. Not only is it an important subject, Newman drew inspiration from many classic poems that would invite comparisons.
It would have been easy for this collection to come off as exploitative or sensational, but it reads as a true tribute to Matthew Shepard’s legacy. The poems are powerful and moving and a great way to see that future generations know Matthew’s story.
Heather at Teen Librarian Toolbox: “Newman’s “song” gives voice to the players in such a way that the reader moves through the event with a different kind of understanding. It forces the reader to think of the event not as a story – it is not a fiction – rather a life and an experience that has a power all its own and needs to be remembered.”
Reading Rants: “[October Mourning] is also a collection of poetry in many forms that pays tribute to a life cut short and calls on anyone who reads it to fight against the ignorance, intolerance and hatred that caused Matthew’s murder.”
YA Librarian Tales: “I feel it is a very important story for today’s teens to be reading…he poetry really does leap off the pages into your head and heart and you feel as if you are there, bearing witness to the hate that Matthew was exposed to.”