“Did you know,” my helpful clerk friend said as she checked out my daily quota of library books, “that you’ve checked out almost ten thousand books since you first got your library card?”
I blinked. “Seriously?” That was over a decade ago, sure, but still. Ten thousand sounded like…a lot.
Then I blinked again. “Um, how do you know that?”
Clerk friend smiled. “It’s something the library software keeps track of. See?” She turned the screen and showed me my library record. And there it was: about 25 books shy of 10,000. I was at the reading equivalent of flipping over my odometer. It was a giddy, dizzying feeling.
For the next week I kept even more careful track of how many books I checked out and returned on any given day. I wanted to make sure I gave library book checkout #10,000 the gravitas it deserved. Because my reading system is partially based on random chance, however, I couldn’t predict which book it would actually be. Would it be a meaningful, profound piece of literature? Some sort of symbolic message from the universe? On the surface I was open to whatever would happen, but underneath, I was secretly hoping the book would be a good one. Something that would make me think and/or feel. Something well-written, with a story that kept me riveted to my couch and characters I could care about enough to laugh and cry for. Something worth the emotional impact of four whole zeroes.
Lucky me, I got my wish.
My Sunshine Away is the story of an unnamed, thirty-something narrator thinking back to his childhood in Baton Rouge, and his years-long crush on the girl next door (yes, literally). When said girl, Lindy Simpson, is raped one humid summer in 1989, our narrator feels horror and shock. He is also, the reader soon learns, one of four people suspected of having committed the crime.
With a hook like that, I was pretty much destined to spend the next 48 hours or so in my favorite reading nook, burning through the chapters (good thing I checked out the book on a Friday). I’ve always been a sucker for a potentially unlikeable, unreliable narrator; the “Should I trust this guy?” aspect of that kind of storytelling keeps me on the edge of my seat, flipping pages like fury. But My Sunshine Away delivers on so much more than that.
There’s the tone, for starters, a wistful, thoughtful, meditative recollection of days gone by. The use of flashback is also extremely clever, to the point that, the first time readers get a clue to the big reveal, they might miss the subtle paragraph in which it is delivered (I certainly did). Plotwise, the action accurately captures all the wonder and horror of being a teenager, replete with burgeoning sexual feelings, a smorgasbord of insecurities, and the gradually dawning realization that not only do adults not have life all figured out, they carry multiple insecurities of their own. The descriptive passages spool out like a love letter to Baton Rouge, helping me clearly imagine it in my mind, down to the last detail, and prompting me to add it to my “places to visit” list.
[Oddly enough–or maybe not–the chapter that really knocked me out was only tangentially related to the main plot. The narrator, recalling the early days of his fascination with Lindy, describes what happened in his classroom the day of the Challenger explosion. Having experienced a day like that myself, I found myself furtively wiping away tears and mourning for all those imaginary little kids whose world had been rocked in the same way.]
My Sunshine Away is an emotional, gripping trip through the tortures of adolescence, and it is worth every last intense reading minute. I couldn’t have picked a better book to celebrate library checkout ten thousand if I’d tried. I like to think of it as a thank you from the fiction gods, a lovely reward for my many years of faithful library use. If you are a fan of lush, literary sort-of-mysteries-but-mostly-coming-of-age-tales, you are cordially invited to experience My Sunshine Away for yourself, in print, audio book, and digital audio.
Does this sound like your cup of tea? Have you already read it or reserved it? How many library books do you think you’ve checked out in your lifetime? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.