I don’t read many middle grade novels, but if they are anything like this one by Ashley Herring Blake, I need to start picking them up.
This is a story about Sunny St. James, a twelve year old girl living on an island off the coast of North Carolina, and we start the story with her getting a heart transplant. Already this is something that I think can connect to an audience of children that don’t feel represented. This tackles so much more than having a life threatening illness though, friendship, loss of friendship, channeling your emotions through poetry, coming of age, queerness, and found family. See Sunny doesn’t live with her mom and dad, she was dropped off with her mom’s friend when she was four because her mom was an alcoholic. Again, a heavy subject that, unfortunately, I think many young readers could relate to.
The best part about this story is that it does bring to focus a lot of things that could be happening in a young person’s life but that may not get the focus that it deserves. Imagine being a kid, having a situation similar to Sunny’s, and the feeling of comfort and acknowledgement you would get from reading this? This is why having stories that aren’t cookie cutter, that maybe tackle some harder things, are important. Because there are kids out there who need transplants or are going through some seriously tough times and it is important that they know they are loved.
Sunny’s story is just as sweet and cute as it is hard hitting and sad. I would honestly recommend this to people both young and old. It never hurts to connect to a story even if it is targeted for younger readers. The story still matters, the story is still important.
I know Ashley Herring Blake has written another middle grade novel and honestly, I’m excited to pick it up and see what that one’s like too. Her young adult novels, notably Girl Made of Stars which I reviewed last year, have been on my radar for quite some time because they’ve received many glowing reviews. I’m glad that I have even more from her to read now as well.