Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Book Review: Sunny by Jason Reynolds (2018)

In his diary, Sunny, a member of the Defenders track team, writes down everything he feels. He writes about his tutor, Aurelia, who homeschools him. He writes about his mother who died giving birth to him and the pressure his father puts on him to be a runner like she was. And he writes about his love for hip-hop dancing, the way every movement of his body makes a particular sound in his mind, and the connection between his love for dance and his newfound role as the track team's discus thrower.

Sunny is quite different from the two books (Ghost and Patina) that came before it. Not only is the diary format new, but this is the first book where the main character has very little interaction with other team members. Though the story is about his role on the track team, and there are plenty of mentions of the other members, the main focus is on Sunny's family situation and how that informs his performance on the team.

I found the writing in this book to be more uneven than in the first two volumes of the series. There are some really beautiful moments, especially near the end of the book when Sunny and his dad begin to really work through their grief over losing Sunny's mom, but there are also some things that feel distracting and unnecessary. For example, I really dislike Sunny's constant use of onomatopoeia to express his desire to dance. I think this will probably work fine in the audiobook version of the story, when the narrator can make the intended sounds, but on the page, they are stumbling blocks that make it harder to glean the meaning of Sunny's words.

I also feel somewhat conflicted over the author's portrayal of homeschooling. Sunny is shown to be completely isolated from kids his age, and his only friend is his tutor. While this might be the experience of some homeschooled kids, I think it's definitely not the norm, and it's unfortunate that Reynolds didn't create a character with a more vibrant homeschooling life. (Kidlit in general could use one!) I like Sunny's friendship with Aurelia, but I don't think it needed to be his only one in order to have the impact on the story that Reynolds intends. This is a minor point, though, and it does not detract from the story overall.

Jason Reynolds continues to be one of my favorite newer authors, and I'm definitely eager to see how he finishes the Track series when Lu comes out at the end of the summer. I have a feeling Sunny will end up being the weakest volume of the series, but even Reynolds's weakest book is still a solid three-star read for me.

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