Published September 12th 2017 by Graphix
Format read: Finished copy
Not only is the whole middle school thing confusing . . . but life at home is confusing, too. Sunny misses her brother Dale, who's been sent to boarding school. But when Dale comes back, she STILL misses him . . . because he's changed.
Luckily Sunny's got her best friend and a mysterious new neighbor on her side . . . because she is NOT going let all this confusion get her down. Instead, she's going to remain Sunny-side up!
Picking up from Sunny Side Up, the Holm siblings reintroduce us to Sunny after she returns home, and adjusts to a life without her brother, Dale. Even though Dale's only a phone call away at his new boarding school, the emptiness of his day-to-day presence is felt acutely, in random moments where Sunny reminisces her memories of a younger, more carefree Dale, with the angry, sullen present.
Like Sunny Side Up, Jennifer and Matthew do a thorough job of detailing the steps of recovery that are involved with loss. Because for all intents and purposes, Dale's absence from Sunny's life is felt as the acute loss of someone special, and a grieving process is needed for Sunny to move on.
Much of Sunny's solace comes from losing herself to fictional TV shows, and there's an underlying nod to how escaping to fictional worlds can prove to provide even a temporary respite from a person's private troubles. But Jennifer and Matthew balance the escapism out by reinforcing Sunny's family and friendship ties - e.g. her communications with her grandfather - as a reminder that she's never alone, even when she feels alone. There's a special profundity in Sunny's determination to taking on flags - it's not only a hobby that helps her center herself and make new friends, but also shows that she's able to conquer the seemingly impossible.
But all in all, it's Jennifer and Matthew's handling of the Sunny/Dale relationship was especially poignant. Jennifer and Matthew aren't afraid to show Sunny's struggles with forgiving her brother; she's angry at him and expresses it, but still makes it a point to show him love how she can, including trying to keep things feeling normal for him.
All in all, this is a beautiful, worthy successor to Sunny Side Up, and I am grateful again that the Holm siblings never hesitate to tackle on serious issues for their young readers. Highly recommend, full stop.