Review: Shiner by Amy Jo Burns

Title: Shiner by Amy Jo Burns
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 270 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss


On a lush mountaintop trapped in time, two women vow to protect each other at all costs-and one young girl must defy her father to survive.

An hour from the closest West Virginia mining town, fifteen-year-old Wren Bird lives in a cloistered mountain cabin with her parents. They have no car, no mailbox, and no visitors-except for her mother’s lifelong best friend. Every Sunday, Wren’s father delivers winding sermons in an abandoned gas station, where he takes up serpents and praises the Lord for his blighted white eye, proof of his divinity and key to the hold he has over the community, over Wren and her mother.

But over the course of one summer, a miracle performed by Wren’s father quickly turns to tragedy. As the order of her world begins to shatter, Wren must uncover the truth of her father’s mysterious legend and her mother’s harrowing history and complex bond with her best friend. And with that newfound knowledge, Wren can imagine a different future for herself than she has been told to expect.

Rich with epic love and epic loss, and diving deep into a world that is often forgotten but still part of America, Shiner reveals the hidden story behind two generations’ worth of Appalachian heartbreak and resolve. Amy Jo Burns brings us a smoldering, taut debut novel about modern female myth-making in a land of men-and one young girl who must ultimately open her eyes.


Shiner by Amy Jo Burns is a gritty, atmospheric novel.

Fifteen year Wren Bird lives with her snake-handling preacher father Briar (aka White Eye) and her mother Ruby. They live on a remote mountain and they rarely interact with anyone outside her mother’s best friend Ivy and  her father’s shrinking congregation.  The small family has little money and Ruby homeschools her daughter.  Living in a dilapidated shack,  Wren’s only exposure to modern technology is Wren’s once a month trip to the library where she uses the computer and visiting Ivy’s family who have cell phones and cable television. The Byrd family begins to a downward spiral the day Briar seemingly performs a miracle. In the aftermath of destruction, shocking secrets are revealed.

Wren is an intelligent young woman who lives a very sheltered life. She longs for a friendship like the one her mother shares with Ivy.  It is not until her father’s miracle that she begins to view her family differently.  Wren knows her mother is desperately unhappy and beaten down, but how did she end up trapped with her preacher husband? Shocking revelations come to light after tragedy strikes, but will learning about her family’s past alter Wren’s future?

Told through shifting perspectives, Shiner is an engrossing novel about life in poverty stricken, small-town West Virginia. The characters are well-developed and while some are appealing, others are deeply flawed. The storyline is engaging with an overall sense of misery and impending doom. Amy Jo Burns descriptive prose brings the mountain setting and overwhelming despair vividly to life. The novel’s conclusion is satisfying and unexpectedly upbeat. I enjoyed this well-written novel and encourage readers of the genre to pick up a copy.

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Filed under Amy Jo Burns, Contemporary, Fiction, Rated B, Review, Riverhead Books, Shiner

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