Book Review - Sunshine by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Billed as a follow up to his National Book Award nominated Hey, KiddoSunshine is a story that attempts to fill in Krosoczka’s high school years while he counsels at a camp for kids with cancer. But let's be clear, Sunshine really isn't a follow up. The threads created in Hey, Kiddo are only scantly referenced. In fact, Sunshine is so insular, it's like calling White Bird a follow up to Wonder. They exist in the same universe, but the events within are nothing alike. 

At least with other books that exist in the same universe, say The Hate U Give and Concrete Rose, the worlds collide on more than a surface level. And while they exist independently, they are enhanced with the reading of the other. The same could not be said for Sunshine. Outside of knowing just a little bit more information, the events and the world within are completely isolated.

So now I'm left with managing expectations versus evaluating what I got. To be clear, Sunshine is clearly a book that means a lot to Krosoczka. It's reflecting on a major influential time in his life. The problem is, I felt disconnected from the events that transpired. On the onset, Krosoczka decides to volunteer his time at this camp which his grandparents think is a terrible idea.

And it's immediately, for Krosoczka, a moving experience. Because how can you not feel something when you're talking about kids with life-threatening illnesses? 

But it never goes any further than that. His connection to the kid he has to follow, Carlos never feels complex. Krosoczka offers him a helping hand when he can. He draws pictures for him. He even gets him to go paddle-boating. But that's it. It never shows and depth or range. He spends an inordinate amount of time with another kid who he isn't ever in charge of. And trust me, I'm not the only one who was confused by this. Several other people I talked to were like, "But why was he close to that family in particular." It's never explained, and it's totally confusing.  

When I think of other camp stories such as Flamer, they create a world and let us feel part of that world. They show us everything, no matter our discomfort. Sunshine feels almost sanitized. Safe even.

I tell my students that writing about camp is probably the worse thing a student can do. There's something about the experience that's hard to capture. Camp is so specific to the person, and capturing that love of the community requires precision and a moment so singularly profound, it's nearly impossible to pull off.

Sunshine never pulls it off. There's no challenge. There's no change in the way our character feels. The essence of the camp isn't captured. What it does have is cancer. So it feels misguided to really say anything particularly egregious about the characters. But ultimately, this is just fine. There's an audience for this kind of work. I'm not sure who it is, but it really lacks any excitement or growth. He thinks about camp a lot even in his older age. That's great Jarrett. But the "why" we should care never quite delivers the depth one would expect. 

Release Date: April 18, 2023
MSRP: $15.99


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