Thursday, September 10, 2015

Review: Sunny Side Up

Sunny Side Up, written by Jennifer L. Holm and illustrated by Matthew Holm

published 2015, 224 pages.
MG Graphic novel/realistic fiction

I read Sunny Side Up  during my lunch hour, which is a half hour long (lnch hr?), so that gives you an idea of what a quick read this is.  It also gives you an idea of how much graphic novel illustrators must hate me, because I don't spent a lot of time appreciating the detail in their art.  But oh my gosh, this is the cutest.  Raina Telegemeier is so accessible to my struggling readers, and I was hoping this would bring the same punch.  And it does!  Yay!  I haven't kid-tested it yet, but seriously, what's not to like?

The story open in the summer of 1976, when Sunny is eleven.  This puts it squarely in the "historical fiction" category, which is weird, because I'm just a few years younger than Sunny.  Instead of heading to the shore with her family and best friend, as planned, Sunny is spending August at her grandfather's house in Florida.  Adding insult to injury, he lives in a retirement community, so her dreams of Disney World are replaced by cranky old people and exciting trips to the post office.  Grandpa's poorly hidden smokes are stashed all over the house, despite his incipient emphysema. And the foldaway couch she's sleeping on is lumpy and squeaky.

Through a series of clearly labeled flashbacks, we learn that Sunny's life in the past year has been complicated by the growing problems between her beloved big brother and her parents.  In addition, her family is coping with the stress of a new baby.  We start to see why she has been packed off to grandpa's for the month.  Luckily, she manages to meet another kid, the son of the groundskeeper, and he introduces her to the world of comics.  They fund their comic buying with collecting golf balls, until they figure out another source of income.

By the month's end, Sunny has a very important epiphany about her responsibility for the mistakes of others.  The book, while not autobiographical, is based on the childhood experience of the sister/brother author/illustrator team in dealing with the addiction of a family member, and Sunny's anguish, shame, and guilt ring true.  Beautifully, so does her realization that all of this is not her fault.  It's a great story for anyone, but for kids who are in similar situations, it is one of support, reassurance, and hope.

Four stars for me, five stars for younger readers, especially those who might relate.

Bonus: the Holms apparently are local (Portland, OR), although the setting of the book leads me to believe they grew up on the East Coast.

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