Published by Amy Eichorn Books on February 10, 2015
Genres: Adult, Literary Fiction, Mystery
“It was the summer everything changed….”
“My Sunshine Away” unfolds in a Baton Rouge neighborhood best known for cookouts on sweltering summer afternoons, cauldrons of spicy crawfish, and passionate football fandom. But in the summer of 1989, when fifteen-year-old Lindy Simpson–free spirit, track star, and belle of the block–experiences a horrible crime late one evening near her home, it becomes apparent that this idyllic stretch of Southern suburbia has a dark side, too.
In “My Sunshine Away,” M.O. Walsh brilliantly juxtaposes the enchantment of a charmed childhood with the gripping story of a violent crime, unraveling families, and consuming adolescent love. Acutely wise and deeply honest, it is an astonishing and page-turning debut about the meaning of family, the power of memory, and our ability to forgive.
My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh is a book that doesn’t neatly fit into any genre, but one in which the writing is so beautiful I think anyone interested should read it. The story is about a girl named Lindy Simpson, who was raped at the age of fifteen in her Baton Rouge neighborhood, and is told from the point of view of one of the suspects, who just happens to be in love with her. Yet while this is a mystery novel to discover who the culprit is, it’s much more than that. My Sunshine Away gives readers an inside look to a southern neighborhood that is replete with fascinating characters and somewhat unbelievable events.
I first want to discuss the age group for which this book is appropriate. I’ve seen My Sunshine Away listed in both the young adult and adult sections of bookstores. While the story does follow the protagonist’s teenage life, for the most part, I personally consider this an adult novel. There are many graphic scenes, and I think the content is more appropriate for an older audience. That being said, I would recommend the book for the ages of 16 and up, but, as always, that’s a choice every individual reader has to make.
In terms of the story itself, I have to say I’ve never read anything quite like this before. The writing is very well done. I felt as if the protagonist was speaking directly to me, but in a way that is more poetic than colloquial. There are many quotable passages, and there is a depth to the writing as well. I don’t read literary fiction often, so I did struggle to find some of the metaphors and how they connected to the story. My paperback edition contains a discussion section, and I found that really helpful. It added to my understanding of the book, and also increased the story’s rereadability.
My Sunshine Away did have a slow pace, especially at the beginning, despite being a short book of about 300 pages. I think this is mainly due to the way time is used in the book. Instead of following a linear format, the protagonist jumps forward and backward in time. This does help to create a vivid picture of his childhood, but also made me slow down to ensure I got all of the details in order.
My favorite part of the novel is definitely getting to see inside a neighborhood in the south. I’m from the northeast, and am so interested with the southern culture that is in some ways quite different from my own. The characters in the novel are so richly written, and they are beyond unique. The author does an amazing job at mixing in shocking and disturbing moments with the normalcy of everyday events. It balanced out the story well to have a rape on page one, and then childhood games between the neighborhood children for the following chapters.
Similarly, I loved how real life events, such as the Challenger explosion, are included in the book. This makes everything seem so real and vivid. I had an easier time picturing our characters as real people, and that made my emotional connection to them grow strong.
Finally, the ending was a bit hot and cold for me. I do really love how the book wrapped up, but I was let down by the mystery’s resolve. I recognize that Lindy’s rape is not the sole focus of My Sunshine Away, but I almost feel like she wasn’t given the respect she deserved when the rapist’s identity was just glossed over in the end. It’s definitely something to think about after completing the book.
Overall, I did really enjoy My Sunshine Away, and I highly recommend it. I think this is a good book for those who want to break into the mystery genre, and those who love family dramas. You will get all of that and more in this novel. I look forward to reading more form M.O. Walsh in the future, and giving this one another read at some point, too.
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