My Sunshine Away by M. O. Walsh

Sometimes I read a book that I really enjoy and it’s difficult to be able to say why exactly I enjoyed it.

My Sunshine Away is one of those books.

A young man tells us the story of a girl in his neighbourhood who was raped, a girl that he had become obsessed with. One who he continues to be obsessed with long after her rape.

The boy live with his mother, he has two older sisters who live away from home and an absentee dad. Lindy lives across the road from our storyteller and he tells us he first fell in love with her at the age of seven. Seven years later, she is raped and seemingly everyone’s a suspect, including our boy.

I’m referring to him as ‘boy’ and ‘storyteller’ because the truth is we never actually learn his name. He never refers to himself, and nor do any of the other characters.

I find it an odd choice to leave him nameless. The only thing I can imagine is to try and make the reader feel like that they are themselves the centre of the story. If you’ve ever been an adolescent boy, it’s very easy to put yourself at the centre of this story, named or not. If you’ve never been an adolescent boy, then I would imagine it’s just as easy (or difficult) to understand as it would be if he had a name.

Name issue aside, it was an easy book for me to get into, the atmosphere of a child growing up in a small town near New Orleans was wonderfully vivid, you could almost feel the heat of summer coming off the page and the characters were all well drawn.

The characters all felt so real, which is to the book’s merit, because this isn’t really about the rape, or our boy’s growing obsession. It’s a coming of age story, realising that the world is not so innocent after all, and that we can’t stay nestled in the safety of childhood.

It’s a piece about characters, but more than that, because although the plot is secondary to the character development, there is still a plot there – which some character pieces seem to forget about.

One colleague of mine – one who I feel doesn’t really get books – described the book as ‘tangent rape’ – for the reason that the book centres around a rape, but the narrator goes off on tangents describing events from the neighbourhood that help to explain what’s going on.

From talking to her, she wants a book that goes from Plot Point A to Plot Point B that has a very defined bad guy and doesn’t deviate from the action. What she has failed to realise is the subtlety of a book like My Sunshine Away.

The tangents help to slowly build a foundation for this world that our characters inhabit, so that when the plot developments come they feel natural, understandable, and while that means they lose the initial surprise factor they somehow become more shocking, more impactful.

We feel like all the other residents of the neighbourhood do. How could we not have known? Why didn’t we realise? All the signs were there.

Definitely worth a read – but if you’re after action scene after action, this may not be the best book for you. Pop and see a film instead.

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