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I spotted Sunny Side Up in the kids section at Strand over the holiday season a few months back. The evil summery cover of girl on raft made me mad. It was a sticky December day and the store was hot and crowded. Winter was clearly going to be a rip this year. How dare this book make me long for summer, swimming and early bird specials. Early bird specials are awesome. No crowds and you have lots of time for dessert, plus when you eat early the night lasts longer.

When I read nonfiction I like to have a piece on the side, something quick and colorful. This is that.

sunnysideup

1976 Sunny Lewin flies all by herself from her home in Pennsylvania to visit her grandpa in his Florida retirement community. Lucky duck. Sunny’s picturing Disney World and beaches. She arrives to a lumpy hideaway bed in an apartment full of smoke stinkum. Things aren’t looking good, but the graphics are too cheery for this to be a downer book.

sunnyside

Soon Sunny befriends Buzz, the gardener’s son who introduces her to comics and superheroes with secret identities. Together they brave a pond with an alligator to collect golf balls and earn comic book money by finding missing cats. They even help a patient with dementia who loses her way. With her grandpa and his girl friends, Sunny learns the art of pocketing a roll for later.

Summer rolls on and we begin to wonder why Sunny is in Florida. Between her mini adventures, we flashback to the months leading up to summer. The older brother she idolizes drinks, fights with his parents and loses his temper. His substance abuse escalates to a breaking point and Sunny worries it was her fault.

Meanwhile Sunny continues finding hidden packets of cigarettes even though her grandpa was supposed to have quit years ago. She pretends she’s happy by day and comfortable squeaking herself to sleep on the awful bed at night. When she confronts her grandpa’s lie, all of the fear, confusion, anger and embarrassment she’s been carrying spills out, too.

This isn’t an after school specially kind of book, but it does have a touching moment. The immediate and lingering effects of substance abuse on a family are real, and they’re handled with care here. While not at all the carefree summery book I expected from the cover, it’s a warm story with a few well placed moments. Sunny’s friendship with Buzz and growing relationship with her grandpa soften the subject’s edge, making it accessible to the younger readers it’s intended for.

The book dips into a lackadaisical pace only graphic novels can pull off. I liked it even when I wasn’t sure it was going anywhere.

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