Summer Fun with a Side of Serious

BookendsCindy: Earlier this summer, on the plane ride home from ALA Annual Conference, I read the graphic novel Sunny Side Up (August 2015) by siblings Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm. I hinted at this in a previous post about our exhibit haul. The book’s front cover blurb from Raina Telgemeier, author of Smile (2010), Drama (2012), and Sister (2014) reads:

“Heartbreaking and hopeful, Sunny Side Up is just the thing to chase away the clouds.”

This colorful graphic novel about a middle-grade girl will definitely appeal to Telgemeier’s fans. In August 1976, Sunny arrives by plane (remember Eastern Airlines?) for an extended visit with her grandpa in the Sunshine State. He says he has big plans as he loads her into his Cadillac, pops in an eight-track tape of Lawrence Welk, and drives her to his retirement community. She quickly realizes that his “big plans” do not include Disney World and are a far cry from the aborted family beach vacation that would have included her best friend. The story alternates between boredom with Gramps and earlier summer events with her family—the impact of her older brother’s substance-abuse problems. The narrative is indeed heartbreaking but hopeful, as the book’s blurb promises.

sunnyMany families have problems that are not discussed or dealt with in the open. Young readers will respond to Sunny’s struggle to cope with her family’s challenges.

On a lighter note, the book is filled with mid-’70s references from my teen years: Tiger Beat magazine, Polaroid cameras, and patriotically painted fire hydrants for the Bicentennial. These and other fun details set the book firmly in a time and place, though addressing a timeless problem. I also love the book’s dedication: Gramps.

Lynn:  I was starting a family during the time the book was set, so my memories are mostly of sleepless nights, diapers, and Lamaze! Were there really people who had time to read magazines? Happily, Sunny Side Up deals with universal family elements that anyone can immediately connect with, regardless of which generation you remember best. Sunny could be any middle schooler today, trying to cope with worrying family issues while dealing with growing up. Ultimately, it is Sunny’s connection with Gramps and her new friendship with a cute, comics-loving boy that give her the strength to speak up about her fears and help her to deal with her family worries. Gramps and his many old-lady admirers made me laugh out loud. I loved the illustrations’ bright palette and the clever, spacious panels—a very accessible and inviting book. The hopeful ending does indeed leave me thinking that sunny days are ahead. Here’s hoping the Holms siblings will take us on more of Sunny’s adventures.



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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