Reviews for October Mourning : A Song for Matthew Shepard

Booklist Reviews 2012 September #2
*Starred Review* On October 6, 1998, 21-year-old Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, was lured into a truck, driven into the country, savagely beaten, tied to a fence, and left to die--which he did, five days later. In the 68 poems that make up this novel-in-verse, Newman re-creates the events and circumstances surrounding this unspeakably vile hate crime and offers a moving tribute to a young man she regards as a martyr. Her poems are told from multiple points of view, including that of the fence, the rope that bound the boy, and a doe that stood watch over him. The beautifully realized selections are also written in a variety of forms, ranging from haiku to villanelle, from concrete poetry to rhymed couplets. Each form (discussed in an appendix) matches the tone and mood of its content, creating an almost musical effect that is both intellectually and aesthetically engaging. Written with love, anger, regret, and other profound emotions, this is a truly important book that deserves the widest readership, not only among independent readers but among students in a classroom setting, as well. Most importantly, the book will introduce Matthew Shepard to a generation too young to remember the tragic circumstances of his death. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2013 Spring
Gay student Matthew Shepard's murder stunned the University of Wyoming community in October, 1998; Gay Awareness Week was about to begin, with Newman the keynote speaker. Sixty-eight poems in varied forms present a range of voices--the fence, the doctor, stars--in this "historical novel in verse." Newman's language serves the voices well, the poems always simple, accessible, and moving. Reading list, websites.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2012 #5
In Laramie, Wyoming, one October evening in 1998, a gay twenty-one-year-old student named Matthew Shepard was kidnapped from a bar, robbed, beaten, tied to a fence in a field, and left to die. He was found eighteen hours later by a biker who thought he was "a scarecrow's head / slumped over / that forsaken fence / not a smashed shattered / pumpkin of a boy." Shepard died five days later. The horrific incident stunned the University of Wyoming community, where Gay Awareness Week was about to begin, with Newman the keynote speaker. The story of Matthew Shepard has haunted her ever since, and in this "historical novel in verse" she performs the poet's work of imagining the human tragedy of Shepard's death. Sixty-eight poems in such forms as rhymed couplets, haiku, found poems, acrostics, pantoums, villanelles, and concrete poetry ("Jury Selection" resembles a syringe holding a lethal injection) present a range of voices -- the fence, the biker, a police officer, the doctor, a journalist, the wind, stars, candles at a vigil. Many poems open with an epigraph, words spoken or written by actual people to establish the context, all cited in the source notes. Newman's language serves the voices well, the poems always simple, accessible, and moving. dean Schneider

Kirkus Reviews 2012 August #2
Nearly 14 years after the unspeakable tragedy that put Laramie, Wyo., on the hate crimes map, lesbian literary icon Newman offers a 68-poem tribute to Matthew Shepard. Readers who were infants on October 6, 1998, may learn here for the first time how the 21-year-old Shepard was lured from a bar by two men who drove him to the outskirts of town, beat him mercilessly, tied him to a fence and left him to die. Ironically, months before Shepard's murder, Newman had been invited to Laramie to speak at the University of Wyoming's Gay Awareness Week and actually delivered her keynote address on the day he died. This cycle of poems, meant to be read sequentially as a whole, incorporates Newman's reflections on Shepard's killing and its aftermath, using a number of common poetic forms and literary devices to portray the events of that fateful night and the trial that followed. While the collection as a whole treats a difficult subject with sensitivity and directness, these poems are in no way nuanced or subtle. For example, Newman repeatedly employs personification to make inanimate objects, such as the fence, road, clothesline and truck, unwitting accessories to the crime, and she imitates William Carlos Williams' "This Is Just to Say" false-apology format no fewer than four times with mixed results. Though somewhat heavyhanded, these poems are sure to instill much-needed empathy and awareness to gay issues in today's teens. (Poetry. 14 & up) Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 July #5

Just days after 21-year-old Matthew Shepard was killed in 1998, Newman (Heather Has Two Mommies) visited his school, the University of Wyoming, as the keynote speaker for its Gay Awareness Week. Writing from this personal viewpoint, Newman crafts 68 poems, imagining the perspectives of Shepard, his convicted killers, the stars above, the fence to which he was tied, a nearby deer, and many more. Despite the variety of voices and poetic forms Newman uses (haiku, pantoum, villanelle, and others), the poems read as a somewhat repetitive chorus of rage, shame, and disgust ("I can take anything/ I'm tough as time/ But when I saw him/ between the two of them/ trapped in that truck/ it made me want to heave," says the road). It's a visceral, painful read, but it's difficult to say how singsongy couplets from Shepard's cat ("Where is the boy? Will he ever be back?/ I'm cold and I'm lonely and I need a snack") or a punny offering from the rope used to bind him ("They roped me in/ I was fit to be tied") make this tragedy more real. Ages 14-up. (Sept.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2012 November

Gr 9 Up--Matthew Shepard, a gay college student, died nearly 14 years ago, of wounds inflicted during a violent beating. Just before his brutal attack, he and other students had been planning a Gay Awareness Week; Newman was the keynote speaker at this event, which took place a week after the assault. Through 68 poems, she captures facets of the event that were likely never uncovered before. The poems' fictitious narrators, ranging from Matthew's cat to hateful frat boys at nearby Colorado State to the fence on which Shepard was abandoned, appear and then return later as the narrative unfolds. What impact will the depiction of such an event have on today's teens, many of whom were just born at the time of its occurrence? Put simply-a tremendous impact. Newman's verse is both masterful and steady-handed. Each poem is beautiful in its subtle sophistication. The overarching narrative will be appreciated most by readers who have read a brief overview of what happened to Matthew, but those who haven't will certainly be inspired to do so immediately following. Many teens will see how very far we've come, while others will see how far we still have to go. Either way, the book will be a valuable addition to poetry and fiction collections.Jill Heritage Maza, Montclair Kimberley Academy, Montclair, NJ

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VOYA Reviews 2012 December
Matthew Shepard was a gay university student who was beaten nearly to death, tied to a fence in an isolated area, and left to die. Although October Mourning is a fictional novel-in-verse, it is grounded in fact and provides (fictional) insights from various points of views. Each poem provides powerful and unique perspectives, allowing readers opportunities to think and talk about serious issues. Less than a week after Matthew's death, the author of October Mourning was scheduled to give a speech for Gay Awareness Week--at Matthew's former university. This speech had been arranged way before Matthew's tragic death, but the importance and meaning of the speech completely changed. This book was written as her way of dealing with his death and its impact on the world In addition to the almost seventy unique poems, valuable supplements are available at the end of the book. The epilogue explains the author's fated keynote speech for Gay Awareness Week at the University of Wyoming, where Matthew Shepard attended college. The notes section contains references to factual documents that inspired--and were used in--each particular poem. "Explanation of Poetic Forms" reveals each poem's form and explains each in detail. Some poems are modeled after other poems, and the inspiration is given due credit. This is a powerful book that is useful not only to promote tolerance and peace but is also a great way to study poetry forms and authors, as well as writing itself. This is a must-have book for school and public libraries.--Dianna Geers 5Q 3P J S Copyright 2011 Voya Reviews.