Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

It's August 1976 and 10 year old Sunny is looking forward to going to the shore for two weeks with her family mom, dad, older brother Dale and baby brother Teddy - and her best friend. Instead, she finds herself winging her way to Florida to stay with her grandfather for two weeks.

At first, Sunny thought it might be fun, maybe even a trip to Disney World was a possibility, but she soon realizes that life in a retirement community is, well, not what she had hoped for.  Instead, she finds herself going to the post office, the supermarket, the golf course with her grandfather.  Luckily, she meets a boy her age named Buzz, who's totally into comic books and superheroes.

The two become friends and are soon earning comic book money by retrieving golf balls from gold course water hazards and getting a nickel for each one from the guy in the pro shop.  Later, they begin earning a dollar for finding the lost cats of some of the elderly residents.  Suny's visit is more interesting with a friend, but she is also aware that her grandfather is smoking on the sly.  Instead of just owning up to the fact that he is addicted to cigarettes, Grandpa claims he has finally quit, but Sunny finds packs of cigarettes hidden all over the house, including in the cereal box.

Interspersed in Sunny's present are flashbacks that begin in September 1975.  As the new school year begins, she begins to realize that her older brother may have had some problems there - he was disliked by the teacher she now has.  Each flashback adds more information about her older brother Dale, as he changes from a fun older brother that Sunny looked up to to a scary, violent drug addicted stranger who is in with a bad crowd.

It's while reading a Hulk comic that Sunny suddenly makes the connection between the changes in her brother brought on by drugs and alcohol and Bruce Banner's exposure to gamma radiation that poisoned him and causes him to become the destructive Hulk when he's angry.

Realizing that she has been sent to Florida while her parents deal with Dale and his drug problem, and afraid she might become like him and/or the Hulk, Sunny makes a big decision that will change her life and really improve her visit to Florida.

I have to admit that when I received this book, I thought it was going to be a fun book about a young girl's summer vacation, with best friends and maybe a crush or two.  Boy, was I taken aback.  Though not without many humorous elements, this is a serious book and although it takes place in the 1970s, it easily resonates in today's world.

Despite the flashbacks, the majority of the story takes place in the present.  There is the reminder that 1976 was a bicentennial year, with lots of different celebrations, and the people were really into the space program then.  One particularly poignant chapter involved Sunny and Grandpa going to dinner at Buzz's house and meeting his father, a Cuban immigrant without papers, a chemist who must work as a gardener.

Grandpa's cigarette addiction and Dale's drug problems are nice paraelles to each other, reminding us the addiction is addiction, even if your drug of choice is legal.  But, it also reminds us that dealing with an addiction is difficult in real life.  Like Sunny, kids tend to love their siblings but so often don't understand what's happening and often no one really talks to them about it.  It took a comic book to make Sunny admit to what was going on around her.  Holm and Holm have managed to portray the changes in Dale, and Sunny's confusion about what she was seeing, and her sense of betrayal by some of Dale's actions so evocatively that a middle grade reader will certainly feel empathy for Sunny, and perhaps even be able relate to her predicament within their own family.

The graphics for Sunny Side Up, drawn by Matthew Holm, were colored in by Lark Pien.  She chose a palette of bright, sunny summertime hues, contrasted with the Dale-involved flashbacks which become darker and darker as he sinks into his troubling lifestyle.

The storytelling in Sunny Side Up is simple without moralizing, clear and to the point.  Sunny Side Up is one of those graphic novels that makes my appreciation for what they can do so succinctly grow with each one I read.  It tackles a difficult problem but never loses that all important note of hope.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was provided to me by the publisher, Scholastic Press

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is a weekly event hosted by Shannon Messenger at Book Ramblings, and Plenty of Shenanigans


  1. I look forward to reading this - thanks for the great review!

  2. What a great time period to set a story. Can't wait to get a copy of this one to read. So many interesting subplots going on here.

  3. Great review; I wasn't sure it was a book I would be interested in, but then you said it was a graphic novel, and I could see how well the plot you described would work in that format. I'm curious to see how the art reinforces the story.

  4. Graphic novels are becoming more and more popular (the last one I read was El Deafo, Have you read that?) and you make this one sound so intriguing.

  5. This sounds like a terrific story with important themes. Thanks for telling me about it. I will check it out.

  6. Hi Alex, I really must read a few graphic novels. I tend to pick them up take a look and put them down again but there is much in this one that would interest me. Thank you for the (as always) excellent review.


Imagination Designs