My Sunshine Away by MO Walsh
Publisher: Penguin Books
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full (320 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 3.5 stars
Review by: Cactus
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 life became marked by before Lindy Simpson was raped and after.” A young man, then 14, is obsessed with a girl from his neighborhood, Lindy. Lindy is beautiful, popular, and a track star. The narrator fancies himself in love with Lindy but their seemingly idyllic childhood is altered by Lindy’s rape. There are four suspects and the narrator, with his fanaticism about Lindy, is one of them. The narrator explains how life in Baton Rouge was for them prior to the rape and after. While the rape of Lindy Simpson is the pinnacle event of both their lives and the book, the story attempts to show many more facets of small town life in Louisiana.
My Sunshine Away is narrated in first person by a thirty-something man telling this story to his unborn son. He has things to say that he can’t tell anyone else, but he feels the need to tell someone. If the book says the narrator’s name I don’t remember it but I honestly think it wasn’t said. The story is a meandering look at the narrator’s childhood, before after and immediately surrounding the incident, and how the rape shaped him as a person in both good and bad ways. In some ways I think enjoyment of this book hinges on whether readers can understand, but more so relate to, the narrator. I struggled with his single minded focus on Lindy. He says he’s desperately in love with Lindy but I agreed with the narrator’s mom who says “this isn’t love son, it’s obsession.” I was especially bothered by the pool scene at the party when Lindy’s passed out. However, the author goes to great lengths to explain and excuse a lot of the narrator’s behavior by saying he’s an immature, sheltered teenager. He doesn’t really understand the ramifications of his actions and he always has the best intentions. I think some readers will be able to relate to this and therefore not be bothered by the narrator’s actions. I unfortunately kept thinking he needed professional help.
What kept me listening to the audiobook instead of giving up on the hopeless and mentally challenged (in my opinion) narrator is that sometimes I could sympathize with the self obsession teenagers go through. I could understand why he ran away from problems instead of confronting them. Why he passive aggressively responded to his absentee father and older, more mature, and scary neighborhood boys. Yes he’s immature and often excuses behavior he should be above as a teenager but juxtaposed with this is his desire to actually remain a child. He doesn’t really acknowledge this desire for what it is but the story is clear to show how the narrator always wants things to go back to an age he felt safe and happy and thus many of his actions are an unconscious result of purposefully not wanting to grow up. He often doesn’t want to deal with the ugliness of the world and that directs a great many of his mistakes and misunderstandings.
Although the story does deal with the rape of a 15 y.o. girl and there are numerous other allusions to child abuse, child pornography and deviant behavior, I didn’t find this upsetting or something to especially shield young adults from. The topics are all handled and presented from the viewpoint of a young teenager, and so I found them tasteful and often subtle. Sometimes the reader would have to know what the various signs actually meant to put the clues together, something that the narrator is often ignorant of. Overall while I find the book polarizing in love or hate like many other readers, I found it well written, thoughtful, and thought provoking. For those reasons alone I’d recommend it but it’s also an arresting picture of life in southern Louisiana, both beautiful and tragic.