|My Sunshine Away
4.5 / 5
"There were four suspects in the rape of Lindy Simpson, a crime that occurred directly on top of the sidewalk of Piney Creek Road, the same sidewalk our parents had once hopefully carved their initials into, years before, as residents of the first street in the Woodland Hills subdivision to have houses on each lot.”
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.
This book caught me so off guard. But it hooked me almost instantly. I fell in love mostly with the nostalgia of it; it's strange to see people writing about the childhoods of MY generation, now! I am so used to reading of those of my parents, and while I do have a soft spot for the '50s and '60s, I have to say it was really moving to read about the '80s. Granted, the narrator was slightly older than me, but not by enough that it really mattered. He painted this incredible image of the innocence of growing up in that era, and how it was shattered by events like the explosion of the Challenger and, in the book, the rape of a neighborhood girl in a place where such things just did not happen. I did not grow up in a neighborhood like the one Walsh describes, but I knew of them well: burgeoning developments where young parents moved in order to raise their families near their peers. At one time, I was quite jealous of my schoolmates who would talk of running around with the other neighborhood kids in a pack, exploring or playing Kick the Can or Capture the Flag until dinnertime. I grew up on a street which was not designed as a neighborhood, one which did not have many other children. We didn't have that same experience. While now I wouldn't change my childhood for anything, I know there were times when I was younger that I wish I'd experienced the camaraderie. So this book was especially interesting to me in how it managed to capture my "nostalgia" for something I never even personally experienced. But it did so quite well. I felt like I was one of the neighborhood kids, running around with the rag-tag gang, experiencing their discoveries, joys, and sorrows along with them.
Overall, this book is at its core a story about the transition out of innocence. The narrator grows from harboring a pure, unadulterated boyhood love into puberty, where love becomes commingled with adult lust, and everything changes. Those times are difficult and confusing for all of us, and we often find ourselves unmoored during that transitional stage. To have the loss of innocence of a neighborhood girl - the very object of his crush - become intertwined with simply trying to grow up? That just made everything worse, particularly when the narrator himself became a suspect in the rape. Throw into the mix several other innocence-obliterating situations, and this book truly explored the depths of the often aching pain of growing up. And I have to say, I have a serious soft spot for those sorts of stories (Stand By Me or The Outsiders, anyone?).
This book is also, as many others have pointed out, a love song to Baton Rouge. I did not grow up in the South, but I really loved this depiction of it. I love that the author was willing to examine in depth both the happy and darker sides of his hometown. He wrote with as much joy of the late summer night crawfish bakes as he did pain at the neighborhood’s loss of innocence. Walsh clearly loves his native state, and the reader loves it through his eyes. (It made me wonder often how much of this tale was the author’s own, and how much fiction.)
I clearly can’t write enough about what moved me so in this book - perhaps I am just going on in an attempt to pin it down, myself! In any case, let me just leave you with one of my absolute favorite parts of the book, one which others might overlook because it is found in the Acknowledgements section:
“The first person I’d like to thank is you--anyone who took time to read this--for your generosity and spirit. Thank you for reading every single book you’ve ever read by any author from anywhere. It’s important.”
How great is that?? I think I love this author. I look forward to seeing more from him.
P.S. I also love the title...it evokes for me the (haunting, if you think about it the right way) sound of a young child singing that line solo...
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