Publication Date: February 10, 2015
I remember reading, or at least, attempting to read, A Separate Peace in high school English, and finding the coming-of-age of an adolescent male completely unrelatable. I have mostly blocked that book from my head, and relegated it to a category of “boy books” that are just not for me.
M.O. Walsh’s My Sunshine Away, is a book about being a boy, but it is not a boy book. I won’t be giving anything away by saying (it is mentioned in the first sentence) that this book is about our narrator’s reflections on his neighborhood friend being raped, and how that shapes his adolescence.
It is hard to say “this book is about the rape of a teenage girl” and then go on to say “this book is phenomenal and you should read it,” but I will. This book is phenomenal. You should read it. In addition to the vividly described Baton Rouge setting and the depth of the characters, what really gets me is the narrator’s voice. This is not a novel written in the voice of an unrealistically self-aware adolescent, (ahem). Our narrator is looking back on what happened years before, with an adept understanding of the feelings and choices of his younger self. I felt, in reading this, that I was reading about thoughts and feelings and actions that captured truths about the experience of growing up a teenage boy.
If you’ve read this one, what did you think? And, should I give A Separate Peace another chance?
If you’re not sure about My Sunshine Away, let me leave you with this passage:
All this to say that what my uncle Barry displayed for me that summer was just how strange and complicated adults are. As a kid you assume you know them because they care for you. But for every adult person you look up to in life there is trailing behind them an invisible chain gang of ghosts, all of which, as a child, you are generously spared from meeting.
I know now, however, that these ghosts exist, and that other adults can see them. The lost loves, the hurt friends, the dead; they follow their owner forever. Perhaps this is why we feel so crowded around those people who we know have had hard times. Perhaps this is why we find so little to say. We suffer an odd brand of stage fright, I think, before all those dreadful eyes. And maybe that’s what my uncle had noticed about Mr. Simpson on the lawn that night of the fight. Maybe in my eyes, a child’s eyes, it was just the three of us squatting in the grass. But, to those two men, the lawn appeared to be full of bodies, full of the people they’d made mistakes with in life now tethered to them and ill-rested and serving no purpose but to remind them of the one awful thing: that life is made up, ever increasingly, of what you cannot change.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Penguin’s First To Read program.