All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

on May 21, 2015

My Sunshine AwayMy Sunshine Away
M.O. Walsh
Penguin Books AUS
2015, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

It is the summer of 1989 in a Baton Rouge town and fifteen year old track runner Lindy Simpson is raped one night, not far from her home. Once known as an upper class neighbourhood with the local children attending an expensive school, it soon becomes apparent that there’s a sinister undertone running through the wealth and privilege.

Lindy’s parents and the police attempt to find out who attacked her but all of their suspicions and their leads turn up nothing. From that point on, Lindy is a changed person, altering her appearance and changing the way she behaves as her family slowly begins to fall apart in the fall out of the tragedy.

For one neighbourhood kid in particular, Lindy’s attack consumes him as he tries to at first come to terms with what it means and then, discover who was behind it, aware that he’s somewhat of a suspect himself at various times. In his quest to discover who did this to Lindy, he and another of the children in the neighbourhood expose something even more sinister and finally find the answer he seeks.

My Sunshine Away is a coming of age story of understanding the realities of growing up, shrugging off the enchantment of youth and being exposed to some harsh realities. It’s a story of never giving up, a quest for the truth, forgiveness and how powerful that first crush can be.

I have to admit that I was more than pleasantly surprised by this story. I wasn’t sure what to expect when it arrived and it took me a while to pick it up. But once I did, I was hooked from the first page. Our narrator is never named – a boy a year or two younger than Lindy who lives across the road from her in a somewhat well off Baton Rouge neighbourhood. He’s so innocent that he doesn’t even understand what it means to be raped – the only context he knows it in is hearing his older sister’s boyfriend say it about a team that got soundly beaten in a football game.

My Sunshine Away is more than the story of a rape. It’s the showcase of a neighbourhood far into the deep South, the food, the weather and flooding, the attitudes, the rules and social structures. It was quite a foreign setting for me and I liked learning all of the background from our narrator as he attempts to paint the bigger picture. His father has left, so his mother is now a single parent and it seems as though his interactions with his father are not that frequent. Through his childish eyes we see his mother and how she behaves when his father comes to the house. The way in which she’s used by his father, left crying the next morning when he leaves again tells more about their relationship than a thousand words could. Likewise the narrator gives us the picture of the neighbourhood and the people in it the way he sees them – the kids through the games they play and the adults through the way they interact with their children.

I admired the way this story made me waver in my assumptions of who might have attacked Lindy that night. There are several clear suspects – including briefly, the narrator who had a crush on Lindy and had several drawings and a photograph of her. Naturally when his mother finds these objects she panics, even the most innocent of adolescent crushes suddenly looking sinister in the light of recent events. Slowly the story tiptoes on, several pieces of information making me question whether or not he really was capable of doing this. I enjoyed the back and forth of my mind as I kept wondering whether or not the narrator was deliberately trying to trip the reader up at some stage, presenting information in a way that made him seem more suspicious.

My Sunshine Away is stunningly written, a compelling story and told in a really appealing way. I really came to be invested in the narrator’s life, the way in which he relates his parent’s story and the tragedy that befalls them concerning his sister. I really felt like I got to see the neighbourhood through his eyes and uncover the terrible secret. I had my suspicions before it was revealed, given that I was perhaps looking for something like that and better able to interpret the clues and read between the lines.

Because I was 7 when this book took place, I have to admit I fell down a Wikipedia rabbit hole reading up on Jeffrey Dahmer and his capture, which is referenced in this book (I probably wouldn’t advise getting too intimate with those details) and the Challenger tragedy, which the narrator and other children such as Lindy watched live and which is a defining moment in his ‘relationship’ with her. In some ways my childhood was similar to the narrator’s, although I lived in a different country. We spent as much time playing outside as he and his friends did and roamed the streets in search of the next thing to do. Back then, it was safer to do so and I lived in a rural area where everyone knew everyone else. And then when I was about 10, something happened two small towns over that changed our little society and in some ways, destroyed our innocence in much the same way that the narrator experiences as he comes to understand what happened to Lindy and what was happening in the other house on his street.

This is a fantastic debut, one which I enjoyed immensely and I will be eagerly awaiting M.O. Walsh’s next novel.


Book #88 of 2015



2 responses to “Review: My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

  1. Deborah says:

    I’ve got this waiting for me in NetGalley and now I’m excited to read it!!!

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