Book Review: Down With the Shine, Kate Karyus Quinn (2016)

April 27th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

“May all your wishes come true, or at least just this one!”

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for sexual assault.)

“Lennie, you do know what your uncles and I do for a living, right?”

I laugh more out of nervousness than anything else. “You sell moonshine and it’s illegal. And I know it was bad to take it to the party.”

Uncle Jet looks angry now, but thankfully his stare isn’t directed at me. He’s pointing a finger at Uncle Dune. “I thought you talked to her. What was it . . . three or four years ago? You drew the short straw and then a few days later said you and Lennie had a good talk.”

“I was gonna!” Uncle Dune roars. “But then you had to stick your nose in and tell her first!”

“I sure as shit didn’t!” Uncle Jet shoots back. “Who told ya I did?”

“Well, Lennie …” Uncle Dune’s voice trails off and once again the focus is on me. Worse, Uncle Dune is looking at me with a look reminiscent of Bambi after his mother got shot. “Lennie … you lied to me?”

I gulp. “A little lie. I thought you were trying to give me the sex talk.”

Michaela leaps, like her insane love for Todd is some kind of superpower, and lands with her body spread over Todd. Protecting him. Absorbing Zinkowski’s fall. Making sure that Zinkowski’s fingertips do not connect with Todd. That they find her instead.

Michaela shimmers and glows orange. That lasts only for an instant, and then all three of them disappear in a sudden and explosive burst of orange cheese.

Smith and I instinctively fall back, pulling our shirts up to cover our mouths and noses from the noxious smell.

I wish I was making that up. I wish I was making all of this up.

Tired of always playing it safe, Lennie Cash is determined to kick off her senior year with a bang. Armed with a case of her uncle’s infamous moonshine (“Hinkton Family Moonshine: Brewing It in Bathtubs and Selling It Out of the Living Room Since 1923”), Lennie plans to bribe her way into Michaela Gordon’s annual Labor Day party – and not only avoid an unceremonious bounce, but own that bad girl.

It’s what her best friend Dylan would have wanted. Dyl, who loved her no matter what everyone else said about her criminal father, her sketchy uncles, or her low social standing. Dyl, who seized life by the balls and refused to let go. Dyl, who – just like Lennie – yearned for escape. Dyl, whose dismembered remains were found stuffed in a suitcase last April. Dylan with the hot twin, who now blames Lennie for his sister’s death.

What Lennie doesn’t realize is that the Hinkton family moonshine isn’t just special – it’s downright magical. Her uncles Jet, Rod, and Dune have the power to grant wishes, and that’s what they’re really selling to the people who crowd their living room couch. As Lennie plays bartender for her classmates, making a show of repeating her uncles’ ritual, she unwittingly grants a whole slew of ill-conceived wishes, all of which will come true by sunup the next morning: Class predator W2 gets balls of steel. Little Seanie O’Hara is a little bit taller (and a baller), while emo Devon Stringer wakes up with a shiny new pair of bat wings. And (my personal favorite) stoner Zinkowski wishes for the Midas touch – but with Cheetos instead of gold. (CHEETOS ARE PEOPLE!)

Worst of all, someone wishes for the party to never end, so all these newborn freaks are trapped together in the chaos of Michaela’s mansion until Lennie can find a way to undo the chaos she caused. All while being pursued by her sociopath of a father – and stuck, hand-in-hand, with Dylan’s grieving brother Smith.

Spoiler alert: Kate Karyus Quinn made all my wishes come true with this book. I read Another Little Piece last year and really dug it. I was stoked when I saw the synopsis for Down With the Shine, and it’s everything I hoped for and more. I can officially call myself a Kate Karyus Quinn fangirl now.

Quinn has a wicked, dark sense of humor that’s on full display here. The marriage of morbid comedy and creeptastic horror is reminiscent of Another Little Piece, but Down With the Shine feels much lighter and more playful (in spite of the fact that it begins with a murder). I very rarely laugh when reading – the most you’ll get out of me is a grunt or snort – but Down With the Shine is legit laugh out loud funny. It’s been a long time since I’ve had so much fun reading a book; the time flew right by. (Every time I checked my progress on ye ole Kindle, I was shocked to see how much ground I’d covered. I didn’t want the story to end!)

The story is weird and twisty and brimming with surreal scenes of comedy and angst. I tried to explain the plot to my husband last night – a mac & cheese commercial came on and reminded me of all dem Cheetos – and he just looked at me like I must be high. It’s that kind of book (in the best way possible).

Other things I love about Down With the Shine:

* Potty mouths like whoah (and there’s a pretty great reason for it, too!).

* Playing into the bad boy trope – while also interrogating it, ever so gently.

* The Easter Egg that ties Down With the Shine to Another Little Piece (or at least places both stories in the same ‘verse; search for the word “obsessions,” plural, and then skip ahead two sentences, and BOOM! there it is!).

* Love potions suck.

* Lennie’s uncles, who are doing the best they can to raise a teenage girl, dammit! (“Three men and a genie.”)

* Zombies!

On the downside, I kind of wish Quinn had done away with W2 early in the story. Basically the guy – a well-known creep among their classmates – gropes an unconscious Lennie after she gets booted from Michaela’s party. (Pro tip: this is sexual assault.) He then becomes an odd member of the Scooby Gang the next morning, as Lennie and Smith race around town trying to fix all the damage they caused. While Lennie doesn’t forgive him, his presence (and their necessary acceptance of him) squicked me out just the same. W2 is even allowed to play the hero, once or twice. Yuck.

Also yucky is the implied incestuous relationship between Smith and his mom Teena. This is especially weird since the thread is mostly dropped – even though Quinn makes up some pretty rad backstories and linkages between seemingly random events. (See, e.g., the swear jar and things dropping off trucks.) It doesn’t really seem her style to just leave us hanging like that. I really want to know wtf was going on there!

(And might there be a connection between the Cheetos touch and Lennie having been abandoned in a Chuck E. Cheese ball pit when she was six? Other than that Quinn just harbors a non-platonic love for cheese? File this one under “things that make you go hmmmm…”)

In summary: this is one of the weirdest books you’ll ever read, but also one of the most fun. It especially makes a nice pick-me-up between tearjerkers.

Sequel, please? Or maybe just another story set in the same universe? Boy who absorbs bullets, perhaps?

A very strong 4.5 stars (but just on account of W2), gladly rounded up to 5 where necessary.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)


Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: Not much. Lennie’s father took her on a crime spree and abandoned her in a Chuck E. Cheese ball pit when she was six; it’s now eleven years later, and she hasn’t seen him since. Her mother is distant and vacant; she seems to be suffering from depression (though there is a supernatural cause for her malaise). Lennie’s uncles sell bathtub moonshine and they all live together in one of the poorer areas of town; a social outcast, many of Lennie’s classmates think of her as “white trash.” Her best friend Dylan was murdered their junior year.

Smith might be an alcoholic. Smith and Dylan’s dad died when they were young, and their mother Teena is neglectful. It’s implied that Teena and Smith have an inappropriate/incestuous relationship (read: Smith’s mom is raping him).

At Michaela Gordon’s Labor day party, we see Arnold Tuney kissing Blake Graham (Blake is in the closet).

Animal-friendly elements: n/a


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