One of the most hyped books of 2015 is probably going to be M.O. Walsh’s My Sunshine Away and there are many reasons why it will deserve the hype. The narrator recounts the rape of his childhood crush, Lindy Simpson, in the suburbs of Baton Rouge. The book is very much about violence against women and the problems of trying to view such acts through the male gaze.
Lindy has a regular and predictable schedule during summer vacation. She rides her bike to the high school up the street and runs laps before coming home for dinner as darkness falls. But one evening, someone is waiting for her in the bushes along her street. Hit over the head, she doesn’t see the face of her attacker. The police investigation turns up a number of suspects but little physical evidence and the trail eventually goes cold. When school resumes in the fall, Lindy is acting strange but it isn’t until the narrator tells a classmate about her rape that she begins acting out in retaliation. As the narrator’s memory drifts back and forth between life prior to the attack, the years immediately following, and even decades later, the reader is introduced to the suspects and what happened that night slowly begins to take shape.
The narrator’s memories of such an idyllic upbringing and his love for the wounded Lindy are undeniably adolescent in nature. There’s a self-centeredness about how he recalls her behavior and the way she responds to the attack that is typical teenage in nature. At times, that perspective gets to be a little much. But in the end, that’s one of the points of the novel. There is a possessiveness, a sense of entitlement, in the way the narrator and the other males in Lindy’s life view her and what happened to her; there is a disconnect between what they think she needs and what will actually help her to heal. And as the book progresses, the fact that no one seems to ask her what she needs becomes glaringly obvious.
The objectification of Lindy is probably something that most female readers will recognize immediately and can inspire a knee-jerk reaction of disgust. I know I found myself reluctant to keep reading at times. I’m glad that I stuck with it, though, because My Sunshine Away is ultimately a journey towards self-awareness. It has some tangents that don’t feel completely necessary (the Hurricane Katrina chapter highlighting the relationship between Baton Rouge and New Orleans was a little long-winded for the point it was trying to make), but the novel finally, and eloquently, reaches its destination. For young adult and male audiences, I think the pacing is well designed. It hits the necessary points along the way so that the final ideas carry the appropriate weight. It has the potential to be eye-opening to a large portion of readers whose own self-awareness in the face of violence against women is lacking.
There is something very The Virgin Suicides about My Sunshine Away, but Walsh’s novel goes a bit further in its focus on violence against women and children. Where The Virgin Suicides requires the reader to read between the romanticized remembrances of the sisters, My Sunshine Away gradually removes its own veil of nostalgia and sentimentality. It’s less work for the reader, but sometimes the message needs to be made clearer for it to truly sink in effectively.
My Sunshine Away will be available for purchase February 10, 2015.