Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Sunny (Track, Book 3) by Jason Reynolds

Sunny Lancaster, 12 going on 13, may be the fastest runner on the Defenders track team, the "master of the mile," but he isn't very happy at the moment. He knows that no one much cares about the 1600 meter race until right before runners reach the finish line. So when Sunny stops running just as he reaches the last lap and lets someone else win the mile, everyone is baffled. Coach is certainly stunned when Sunny announces he wants to quit the team in order to dance to the sounds and rhythms he hears in his head. But Coach also sees potential in his dance moves, and convinces Sunny to stay on the team as a discus thrower.

But, it is his father Darryl who really is stunned. After all, running and winning is just what Sunny's mother would have wanted for him, with the goal that he will run and win a marathon, living out his mother's dream for herself. Sunny's mother died immediately after giving birth to him, and he has never had the time to come to terms with his feelings about it, and carries a huge amount of guilt on his shoulders. That guilt trip his father's lays on him together with his father's high expectations have always worked in the past, not any more.

Unlike his fellow teammates, Sunny has lead a life of privilege. Wealthier than the others, he lives in a large, essentially empty house, has been home-schooled his whole life by his mother's friend Aurelia, a teacher/dance instructor. Luckily, Aurelia is a pretty casual, relaxed, blue-haired person, and she definitely has Sunny's best interests at heart. And Aurelia's weirdness totally compliments and encourages Sunny weirdness. Homeschooling isn't all academics with Aurelia - there are also movies (she turns Sunny on to West Side Story) and trips to the hospital to see Sunny's grandfather, Dr. Lancaster, and to visit with his cancer patients, whom they entertain with music and dancing.

Aurelia is the exact opposite of Sunny's dad, who is a cold, distant, regimented man. His feelings seem to have shut down the moment his wife passed away, yet he is still clinging to her. So much so, that he has puzzles made from photographs he took of her, which he and Sunny silently work on together in the evening - their bonding time, as Sunny calls it. In fact, most everything Sunny does with his father is done in silence.

Sunny has a lot on his plate for a 12-year-old - he's convinced he is a murderer because his birth caused him mother to die, he's living with a father who insists Sunny call him Darryl instead of dad without knowing why, and most important, he's trying to figure out who he is now that he is no longer living under the running shadow of his mother. So it's understandable that Sunny would stop running as he approached the last lap of his race - if he had kept going, would he never discover his true self? Luckily, Coach and Aurelia seem to understand that this is Sunny's most important race to win.

As with his other two coming of age Track novels, Jason Reynolds has written Sunny in first person, except instead of straight narration, Sunny's story is told in diary form. This isn't a favorite style of mine, but in this case, it really works. Diaries are private, they are a secret relationship between the writer and the page. In real life, they are not meant for anyone else's eyes. But as a novel form, we have an intimate place in that relationship, being there as Sunny chronicles his most heartfelt thoughts and feelings, and yes, even the sounds and rhythms he hears and likes to dance to. His diary is a place where he can really be himself so we get to meet the real Sunny. And it is therapeutic, as Sunny works through his personal struggles.

There isn't as much about track and Sunny's teammates in this novel. Most of what happens is away from the team, but in the end, it all comes back to that field. Like Ghost and Patina before him, Sunny learns that in order to grow and evolve into the person he wants to be, he's going to need that supportive camaraderie that comes with being one of the Defenders.

Yes, Jason Reynolds has done it again. If you are a follower of the Track series, you won't be disappointed, and if Sunny is your first Track book, you won't be disappointed either, but you will want to run out and get books 1 and 2, Ghost and Patina and then have to impatiently wait with the rest of us for the release of book 4, Lu in October 2018.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book an EARC received from Edelweiss Plus

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