How does one even begin to approach this horrid, gruesome true story about the atrocities committed against Shanda Sharer? Moreover, how does an author write objectively, so all sides can be seen and the reader can draw his or her own conclusions about Shanda and the four girls who killed her?
Michael Quinlan manages to do this, not only objectively, but thoroughly.
The book has been out of print for quite some time now, but even read second-hand, with the pages nearly falling apart, you can't tear your eyes away from the pages. I started it last night and finished it this afternoon, hardly able to sleep.
Shanda Sharer was the new twelve year-old at school in a small town in Indiana. Always an outgoing girl, she quickly made friends, even with a girl she got into a fight with within her first week. This girl was Amanda Heavrin. Amanda, though already in a relationship with classmate Melinda Loveless, took a liking to Shanda and, over time, persuaded her into an intimate relationship.
While Quinlan's prose may seem to imply Shanda was tricked into the lesbian affair, it's a valid viewpoint considering Shanda's alleged "boy craziness" and how she got a new boyfriend quickly after transfering out of Amanda and Melinda's school. This was not a homophobic viewpoint; merely a presentation of how Shanda behaved before and after meeting Amanda.
Shanda was not portrayed as the perfect little girl. She lied to her parents, made mistakes, and tried to hide her relationship with Amanda not only from her parents but Melinda Loveless as well. Once she switched schools, she became more like her old self, hanging out with boys and rebelling less.
Despite the horror of what she helped to in the torturing and murdering of Shanda, Melinda is given a fair background as well. Her tormented home life--which was never confirmed, but still weighs as a heavy possibility--would help explain her drastic mood swings between loving Amanda and saying she never wanted to see her again; claiming Shanda is cute but she wants her dead.
Laurie Tackett, Hope Rippey, and Toni Lawrence are all described in their home lives, their pasts, and their behavior during the murder. All sides are given--they are despicable, yet you find yourself almost wanting to sympathize with them.
Almost... because the details of how Shanda was tortured and murdered are gruesome. No website online even touches upon the details like Quinlan does. The imagery is nightmarish--how Shanda is stabbed, the proof of sodomy, her eyes rolled back into her head, the trunk door slammed on her, how her corpse was found charred from the waist up with her arms outstretched. And that's only a portion of what this 12 year-old girl suffered at the hands of her murderers.
Quinlan has done a wonderful job portraying this heartbreaking story. It proves how just simple communication between parents and children could prevent something like this happening, whether the children are in Shanda's shoes, Amanda Heavrin's, or even Melinda's.
This book really ought to be republished. No one with even a vague interest of true crime should lack this volume in their libraries. It's emotional, factual, and presented in a way that honors Shanda Sharer's memory.