book review: The Meaning of Matthew

Title: The Meaning of Matthew: My Son’s Murder in Laramie, and a World Transformed
Author: Judy Shepard
ISBN: 978-1594630576
Pages: 273
Publisher: Hudson Street Press (September 3, 2009)
Category: non-fiction
Review source: Penguin Group
Rating: 4.5/5

Eventually, we left Matt so we could speak with a doctor and get a full report on his condition. Our son had more than thirty bruises, abrasions and broken bones—including several fractures where his skull had crashed in on itself. As a result, his brain stem, which controlled his heartbeat, breathing, temperature, and other involuntary functions, was severely damaged. The doctor still didn’t know exactly what had caused Matt’s injuries. But the damage to the head looked like it was the result of repeated blows with a blunt and heavy object.

Most adults remember the horrific hate crime against Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming a decade ago. The 21-year-old University of Wyoming student was beaten and left to die tied to a fence. He was gay and active in the GLBT group at his university. This horrific disgusting crime put the spotlight on intolerance, alternative lifestyles, individuality, choices and people’s freedom to just exist however they want to live their lives. The Matthew Shepard Act, a bill which expands federal hate-crime laws to protect people attacked due to sexual orientation or gender is was just passed this year by the U.S. Senate, ten years after Mathew’s horrendous ordeal.

The Meaning of Matthew: My Son’s Murder in Laramie, and a World Transformed begins when Judy Shepard hears the news that her eldest son, a blonde blue-eyed young man, lies in a coma due to a bloody beating in Laramie. She is living in Saudi Arabia where her husband works and they must make the arduous trip back to Fort Collins, Colorado to be with Matthew on his final days. The doctors have already told her that there is zero chance that Matthew will ever recover.

Throughout this poignant, heartbreaking and honest narrative, Judy Shepard remembers sitting at Matthew’s hospital side, the enormous outpouring of support from strangers throughout the country, a phone call from President Clinton, and trying to remain supportive of the rest of her family. Judy also recalls Matthew’s life. His experience at a boarding school in Switzerland, when he first came out to her, his rape on a trip to Morocco, finding out while in the hospital that Matthew was HIV positive and his organs would not be able to be donated as Matthew would have wished, his difficulty in settling on a college [after attending one in North Carolina and working a bit, he chose to return home to attend his parents’ alma mater The University of Wyoming]. Judy also details the trials of the accused murderers: Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney. It is also the story of a mother coping with losing her son and honoring his memory by never letting anyone forget what happened to him and never letting it happen to anyone else.

The refreshing aspect of The Meaning of Matthew is that he was not the perfect role model for gay men everywhere. He was just a man who was gay, struggling to find himself and his own happiness in this world. And two despicable men took away his dreams and goals with several punches one evening. For what? For hate? Because Matthew was different from them?

Judy established the Matthew Shepard Foundation, after received more than $90,000 in donations from well-wishers.

The three areas of focus for the Matthew Shepard Foundation are:

  1. Erase hate by educating society about all aspects of hate (whether it’s based on race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation)
  2. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equality
  3. Put children first—educate the public on the needs of gay and lesbian youth

Buy The Meaning of Matthew from an Indie Bookseller

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