On an isolated mountaintop, an hour from the closest West Virginia mining town, fifteen-year-old Wren Bird lives with her parents, Briar a one-eyed preacher and snake-handler, and his wife Ruby who openly despises him. When a miracle performed by Wren's father quickly turns to tragedy, Wren must uncover the truth of her father's mysterious legend and her mother's harrowing history and complex bond with her best friend.
... fierce and moving ... Burns skillfully shows that women who are often accused of lacking agency in fact make difficult decisions based on a severe 'poverty of choice' ... This intricate novel is that wrenching testament, told in language as incandescent as smoldering coal ... No novel is flawless, and neither is this one. A couple of subplots are patiently developed but hastily resolved. Most of the male characters remain opaque, with murky motivations. But this doesn’t detract from the cumulative power of Burns’s intergenerational story of women who get by on grit and find nourishment in friendship. Shiner sings when Wren breaks free of her family trappings, and embraces school and love — and storytelling ... Despite the plot’s violence and death, this is not a despairing book, but a hopeful one, of Appalachian women taking back their life stories from hoggish men whose power, both in the home and outside of it, is largely an illusion. Neither grim cliché nor opportunistic elegy, Shiner is something far more raw, and more honest.
... lyrical ... Through this kaleidoscopic approach, Burns gives each of her characters the opportunity to shine ... Burns is clearly no stranger to Appalachia. Her evocative, poetic prose contrasts with the gritty world of snake handlers, moonshiners and opioids. At times reminiscent of books by Bonnie Jo Campbell and Ron Rash, Shiner is a powerful novel of generations linked by trauma, and of the hope and resilience needed to break a cycle of misery.
...[a] gorgeously written, plot-rich novel that examines the complex lives of...five beautifully realized characters. The novel is, of course, about what happens to them, but it is also about the lives of women and their fraught relations with men; being set in Appalachia, it is no surprise that the novel is also about story and its gradual morphing into legend. The tone of the novel is melancholy, and things happen that exacerbate that mood, but everything is perfectly apposite. This memorable first novel is exceptional in its power and imagination. It’s clearly a must-read.