Readers Response: October Mourning by Leslea Newman
This post is a reader’s response to a book read for the 2013 Hub Reading Challenge.
Lesléa Newman was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the University of Wyoming’s Gay Awareness Week in October 1998. A few days before she was scheduled to speak, she received a phone call telling her of the horrific murder of Matthew Shepard. She never forgot Matthew Shepard or how he died. In 2012 she wrote October Mourning, a novel in verse. This book tells the tale of Matthew’s murder from the perspective of the people and objects involved in the case: Matthew’s shoes, the fence, the truck, the clothesline used to tie him to the fence, and oh so much more.
I would never have heard of this book if not for the 2013 Hub Reading Challenge. Had I seen the book on the shelf, I would never have selected it. When I saw this title listed, I groaned internally — shoot, I probably groaned aloud. I have always found works in verse best read aloud, and I rarely have the patience for that personally.
But this was part of challenge, and it is extremely short, and I did want to read 25 titles. And all I can think to say is, thank you. Thank you to the members of the Stonewall Committee who selected this book as one of their winners. Thank you to YALSA for coming up with the idea of the Hub Reading Challenge, and, of course, thank you to Lesléa Newman for her remarkable creativity.
I have now read this book twice and listened to it once and I am sure I will do so again. It is a remarkable book. You read “Heartfelt Apology” — an apology from his heart for continuing to beat during the long 18 hours he was tied to the buck rail fence. You read “How to Have the Worst Day of Your Life” — learning how his mother found out her son had been attacked. You read the poems dedicated to the fathers, the mothers, the other gay students, and your heart continuously pounds, your eyes leak a slow, steady stream of tears, and you thank God you’re simply reading about what happened and weren’t personally associated with the case.
But you also read with gratitude that someone still remembers Matthew Shepard and has the ability to show us and remind us of the senseless actions of two cruel men on a cold October night so many years ago.
A novel in verse still isn’t my first choice for reading, but I am much more open to the power of such a novel thanks to this book. Reading a novel in verse is one of the assignments the high school students in my school district are assigned each year. This is the first title I recommend to each student who comes to me for help.
Touching your logic, your imagination, your entire being, I cannot speak highly enough of this book, nor recommend it more strongly.
– Donna Siebold