Book Review

Book Review: Sunny Side Up by Jennifer Holm

Sunny Side UpSunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher: Graphix

graphic novel, memoir, middle grade

Thanks to Graphix and Edelweiss for an advanced copy of Sunny Side Up. Ever since I heard The Yarn, a podcast by Travis Jonker and Colby Sharp all about the development of this title, I have wanted to read it.

Sunny is a teen girl visiting her grandfather in Florida. Over the course of the story, we find out she is visiting because her older brother has a serious substance abuse problem. Her parents sent her to Florida for a visit so they can seek professional help for her brother. It is a heartbreaking story about how adults gloss over things and hope that children don’t see what is really going on. Children internalize these things and feel shame, embarrassment, and disappointment. They are expected to keep these family secrets without anyone really talking to them about them.

I sympathized with Sunny. I have family members who have smoked for years and was always embarrassed to be around other kids because I always smelled like smoke. The funny thing was that they honestly thought they were hiding it from everyone. I was expected to keep this secret which wasn’t a secret at all. Now I have kids of my own. They have never seen this family member smoking before but it is only a matter of time before this is revealed. And I know exactly how they are going to feel about it. Shocked (why would they do something so bad to themselves?) and hurt (I was purposefully kept in the dark about this).

Only recently did I find out that another close family member had a serious substance abuse problem while I was growing up that I didn’t even know about. Looking back on it, I can see the signs. It seems so obvious. Maybe it was obvious to everyone else? Perhaps I was in denial? Certainly no one talked to me about it. They thought I needed to be sheltered from it… as if I wouldn’t find out later.

At one point in the story, Sunny is learning about Pompeii and how everyone was buried and preserved under the ash. Over dinner a family argument about the brother’s problem erupts and Sunny blurts out facts about the famous volcano, Mount Vesuvius. This immediately reigns the family back in and the rest of their dinner seems almost normal. Matthew Holm includes a wonderful page of panels that capture how Sunny is feeling. The top panel shows everyone laughing, passing plates around the table. The middle panel shows the word FLASH in a burst of light. The bottom panel shows them all still sitting around the table covered in ash, preserved in this state. Stuck the way she wants them to be forever.

Wow, a lot of this review has been about me… but all of that is to say that I completely related with Sunny as many teens will. It is unfortunate that so often we don’t talk about these difficult family problems. This could help someone who is struggling with a similar issue, thinks they are alone, and feels that shame or embarrassment. This is a very important book to have on your public library shelves!

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