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Review: Sunny Side Up

The brother-and-sister team of Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm join forces again, though this time their book is a slight departure from the usual work: No cute squishy figures, no spunky mice. This new story is rooted in reality and takes us back in time, though realistically it could have taken place today.

Sunny Side Up
By Jennifer L. Holm. Matthew Holm
Graphix. August 2015. ISBN 9780545741651
HC, $23.99. 224pp.
Grades 4 and up

SunnySideUpSunny is sent to Florida to stay with her grandfather during the summer. At first she thinks it’ll be great. Mickey Mouse and Disney World is all that she can think of. But she quickly realizes that Mickey is not at all part of her grandfather’s plan. Mostly they stick around his over-55-years-old retirement complex and mostly Sunny is bored all day.

She then meets the only other kid in the complex. Buzz is the son of the maintenance worker, and Buzz knows how to make things fun. They scavenge for lost golf balls and search for lost cats; all these things earn them money to buy comics. He introduces Sunny to a whole number of comics.

Sunny’s stay in Florida is interspersed with flashbacks. Readers learn that Sunny’s older brother has been drinking and doing drugs. Sunny remembers different instances in which she was a witness to her brother’s drunkenness and his drug use. He tells her not to tell, and she keeps the secret, but she doesn’t feel good about it.

Eventually, we learn why Sunny was packed off to stay with her grandfather, and Sunny is able to share things with her grandfather to help her get through this difficult time. At the end of their story, the Holm siblings write a note explaining that when they were growing up, they had a relative who was abusing drugs or alcohol. They felt ashamed of it, so they wrote this story so that children would know that they did not have to be ashamed. There’s no telling from the story how closely it mirrors the lives of the authors—the book isn’t categorized as a memoir—but it obviously hits close to home.

The flashbacks alternate well with the present-day narrative. The story builds up evenly, so that readers will want to continue and find out what happens next. The characters are well drawn and realistic. The authors/illustrators accomplish their goal without seeming too preachy. It’s a good story for those who never had to live through this and perhaps even more so for someone who is going through it now. At the very least it’s a good story.

Soft colors are used throughout the artwork, adding to the reflective mood of the story. The grandfather and his friends are comically drawn, which adds some much-needed levity.

This is a great addition to the growing list of kids’ comics that are based in reality, especially for middle grade readers. It’s a must read for 2015.

This review is based on a complimentary advanced reading copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Scholastic.

Esther Keller About Esther Keller

Esther Keller is the librarian at JHS 278, Marine Park in Brooklyn, NY. There she started the library's first graphic novel collection and strongly advocated for using comics in the classroom. Her collection is also the model for all middle school libraries in NYC. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library, and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 4 and regularly reviews for SLJ and School Library Connection (formerly LMC). In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics.

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