Title: My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh
Publisher: Putnam Adult
Genre: Historical (late 1980’s), Mystery, Literary, Fiction
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Penguin’s First to Read Program
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.
My Sunshine Away is an absolutely outstanding debut novel by M.O. Walsh. Part character study, part mystery, this riveting coming of age story is poignant, thought-provoking and quite intriguing. It is a very atmospheric and rather nostalgic tale that recounts a young man’s first love and the guilt and regret from a fateful summer that continue to reverberate well past adolescence.
Set in Baton Rouge, Louisiana during 1989, a quiet suburban street is rocked by a shocking crime. Early one summer evening, sixteen-year old Lindy Simpson is the victim of an horrific assault and while there are many suspects, the case is never officially solved. Lindy’s neighbor, a fourteen year old boy, is deeply affected by the crime and years later, his unresolved guilt and regret from that time period prompt him to write his account of the long ago events.
The narrator of the story harbors an unrequited crush on Lindy and his awkward attempts to capture her attention are cringe worthy and border on obsession. He also counts himself among the list of suspects which makes him a rather unreliable narrator. Can his recollection of the events be trusted? Are his memories biased in his favor? No, he cuts himself no slack as he writes about his activities and describes in excruciating (and oftentimes embarrassing) detail the different ways he tries to capture Lindy’s heart. Is he just an innocent young man earnestly trying to garner his true love’s favor? Or is there a more sinister motive for his somewhat obsessive behavior? Or is he simply a young man who is trying to escape his own unhappy home life by fixating on someone else?
One by one, the narrator slowly divulges the identities of the other suspects. The narration goes off in seemingly unconnected directions as possible motives are revealed but each of the suspects is eventually cleared. Throughout the story, the neighborhood’s secrets are also brought to light after the narrator decides that he needs to bring the perpetrator to justice so Lindy can finally put a face and name to her attacker.
My Sunshine Away is an incredibly well-written novel that is quite captivating. The plot is fascinating and the setting is brought vividly to life. The characters are fully developed and life-like. The time period is absolutely perfect and provides a certain degree of innocence and naiveté that would not be possible after the advent of cell phones, the internet and video games. But the most compelling part of storyline is learning who is responsible for Lindy’s attack and M.O. Walsh does a brilliant job of obscuring the perpetrator’s identity and the reason for the narrator’s guilt right up until the novel’s conclusion. All in all, a superb debut novel that I highly recommend.