We're reviewing three lovely contemporary books today!
We're beginning with Sunny Side Up, a quiet, heartbreaking look at how one girl begins to recover after family trauma.
This sunny tale on making sense of a person's world, is a book that will pull at the heartstrings of readers everywhere.
Hardcover, 224 pages
Expected publication: August 25th 2015 by GRAPHIX
Format read: ARC via publisher
Following the lives of kids whose older brother's delinquent behavior has thrown their family into chaos, Sunny Side Up is at once a compelling "problem" story and a love letter to the comic books that help the protagonist make sense of her world.
By sister-bother team Jennifer and Matthew Holm. A 200-page, full-color graphic novel in the vein of Raina Telgemeier's Smile.
(Favorite Librarian just informed me that she’s actually written quite a few graphic novels with her brother, but my original surprise still stands! *grin*)
In Sunny Side Up, Holm shares the quiet tale of Sunny, a ten-year-old girl who is sent to spend the summer with her grandfather in Florida. Through parallel storylines, we watch Sunny adapt to quirky neighbors and a new comic book-loving friend, while also being introduced via flashbacks to just what initiated the trip: older brother Dale's increasingly violent struggles with addiction.
It’s always hard to write a book that fully captures the drama of fracturing family dynamics, but Jennifer and Matthew prove that they’re more than up to the task. We’re initially introduced to Sunny after the bulk of the drama with Dale’s addiction has already taken place, and we’re privy to her attempts to live her summer normally, while also working through her own emotions.
Though her days in Florida are fairly typical for a teen in 1976 - e.g. earning spending money by helping neighbors, and reading the latest comic books - there are also strong hints of post-traumatic stress. Sunny has an angry reaction upon discovering her grandfather's hidden vice of smoking, and it's that response which gently reminds readers to consider just how deep family issues may continue to impact our personal psyches, and cross over into other avenues of our lives.
However, Sunny's anger is also a reminder of the strength of the support system that Sunny has around her in Florida. Through her grandfather, new friend Buzz, and some equally charming and quirky neighbors, Jennifer and Matthew remind Sunny and the reader that life often takes very strange turns - e.g. Buzz's father's frank admission that he can't work in his profession of choice - and it's okay to accept and work through those frustrations, with support and honesty.
This lesson is an especially poignant and stark contrast to the loneliness, that we see in the flashbacks charting her brother's downward spiral. Jennifer and Matthew offer a sincere commentary on how addiction can impact those who are closest to the abuser, including feelings of isolation and responsibility. We're reminded again and again at how love and acceptance in present time can help begin to negate those previous feelings, which ultimately leaves the book on a positive, uplifting note.
Of special note for educators and parents: Throughout the novel, Jennifer and Matthew don't hesitate to show both the emotional and physical impact of Dale's choices
Though Jennifer and Matthew do a thoughtful, respectful job of reassuring Sunny that she is protected as these incidents come to a head, some of the associated feelings - e.g. panic as Sunny helps her brother cover up a lie - may stir up important questions and feelings in younger readers. Parents/educators might want to remember to engage with younger readers, and be prepared for an open and frank dialogue.
I highly, highly recommend this book for all readers, full stop.