Thursday, February 19, 2015

Book Review: "My Sunshine Away" by M.O. Walsh

In the summer of 1989, in a Baton Rouge neighborhood, Lindy Simpson was the object of many adolescent boys' fascination. She was beautiful but didn't seem to know it, a track runner who wasn't afraid to play with the boys.

"She seemed to walk that perfect line between a person you suspect you might not deserve and the prize life would be if everything turned out right."

But one night, Lindy becomes the victim of a crime, a crime that not all of the boys even understand. Many in the neighborhood are suspects, at least for a time. Understandably for Lindy, but also for the 14-year-old narrator of My Sunshine Away, the crime leaves an indelible mark on their lives.

The narrator has had a crush on Lindy for some time, and as he grew into adolescence, that crush blossomed into a combination of lust, love, and perhaps a little obsession. He desperately wants Lindy to like him the way he likes her, and changes his image, his attitude, his activities in the hopes of getting her attention, yet she remains distant, until a tragedy in his own life brings her back—sort of.

My Sunshine Away is a meditation on growing up, and how our lives, and our futures, are shaped by both incidents and people. The narrator, now an adult, is reflecting upon the events of a period of time in his life, and how those events continue to affect him. This is a story of how adulthood gives us a different perspective on the events of our childhood, and the behaviors of those around us. It's also a reflection of how youth gives us a naïveté that we're sometimes fortunate not to lose until we grow up, because it can protect us from the horrors that may surround us.

"But for every adult person you look up to in life there is trailing behind them an invisible chain gang of ghosts, all of which, as a child, you are generously spared from meeting."

I thought this book was tremendously well-written and really moving. There are elements of mystery running throughout, and M.O. Walsh does a great job making you wonder just how that thread will ultimately unfold. There's a feeling of nostalgia that pervades the book, as well as feeling powerless to control the events around you. The characters are flawed but fascinating, at times unlikeable but completely compelling.

At times I found the book meandered a little too much, particularly one lengthy portion that compared Baton Rouge to New Orleans, and I struggled to keep my focus, but Walsh's storytelling and the emotions the book provokes pulled me back. This is definitely one that will get you thinking and, for a sap like me, feeling, as well.

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