Excuse me while I change hats.
As far as I am concerned, a good book is a good book and a bad book is a bad book. Regardless of style, type or genre, this is the criteria to which I have always cleaved.
As a reviewer, however, certain allowances must be made. Different genres require that I wear different hats. To be clear, there have been “YA” books as good as any “mainstream” novel, and many a “classic” novel, if published today, would be under the banner of YA. I love many YA books (a shout out to L.A. Meyer’s Bloody Jack series) and consider them to be as good as any novel published under any label or genre.
The Haunting of Sunshine Girl written by Paige McKenzie and Alyssa B. Sheinmel has a classic form; a young girl from nowhere special discovers that she has powers and a destiny. Usually the story goes further, but this time the authors take it slow. Sunshine Griffith and her adoptive mother Kat move from sunny Austin, TX to dreary Ridgemont, Washington. When they move into their new home things begin to get scary. Sunshine hears footsteps, and voices, and things in her room seem to keep moving when she is gone. Her mother seems oblivious, until one particularly harrowing night, when all hell begins to break loose. The next morning, Kat remembers none of it, and all of the evidence is gone and Sunshine realizes that something is very wrong.
Sunshine is not alone. She befriends a boy, Nolan, who is remarkably helpful, and the two of them begin to work on Sunshine’s problem. For a refreshing change, Nolan is a lot more than just The Cute Guy. In fact, one of the hidden treats of the book is the way that seemingly incongruous things eventually fit together. I cannot really explain more about that, but take word for it, the more attention you pay and the longer the read, the bigger the pay-off in this book.
Now I realize that all of this seems rather prosaic on paper, but the authors make it work. Sunshine and Nolan are both well-realized, and likeable. Most importantly, we come to care for Sunshine, and Kat and Nolan a great deal.
The story is solidly structured, and often genuinely frightening. Nothing to large happens, at first, but the authors do a fine job at making us see how little unsettling events have a way of snowballing into big disturbing events. The writing is solid, if unspectacular, and it gets the job done. One of the real strengths of the story is the firmness of the plot, most of which I cannot reveal without tossing out dozens of spoilers. Almost every niggling detail get rounded up and explained, and tied into a satisfying bow. Even the creepy art teacher, Ms. Wilde, whom I thought was simply atmosphere, has a clear and pivotal role to play.
This is the first of a series, so the ending, while not exactly a cliffhanger, is a bit unresolved. Still, the book stands alone just fine. In this day where supernatural YA stories are at least a dime-a-dozen I would make sure to check out The Haunting of Sunshine Girl.
Review by Mark Palm
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