My Sunshine Away

My Sunshine Away book cover

sunshineawayMy Sunshine Away
M.O. Walsh
Amy Einhorn Books, 2015

Fiction, Crime
306 pages (hardcover)

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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.

–Description from dust jacket

 

This book intrigued me from the start; however, it took me a couple of tries to get all the way through. The subject matter is a bit on the dark side—the rape of a teen girl should never be made light—but as the darker seems to be part of my reading pattern these days, it may just have been that I needed a break.

The stories of victims are important, and it’s impressive that this novel didn’t fall into that rhythm. Instead of diving into Lindy’s head, the reader sees all from the narrator, who remains unnamed. Walsh captures the mood, the feel of the southern neighborhood in the early 90’s. The narrator relishes the time before: when Lindy, the neighborhood, and life seemed idyllic, and the event that brought it all crashing down.

He admits early on that he’s a suspect, along with two others. One of the more upsetting plot points is the abrupt shift in Lindy’s behavior—a star athlete and happy girl becomes a sulky teenager who shuns her friends for the company of the bad kids in an attempt to fill the void. Though this may seem trite to some, it’s an honest depiction.

This novel demonstrates that we don’t always know what’s next door, or just around the block from the space we call our sanctuary. It’s also a story that’s probably familiar and puzzling in real life. What are the right actions when a friend/schoolmate/crush is involved in a horrible act of violence? Even as adults it’s tough to find the right words, emotions, explanations. Imagine trying to cope with such a thing as a teenager, as either the victim or the by-stander, when invincibility is the feeling of the day.

While not a feel-good read, it’s certainly a good read.

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