My Sunshine Away is a debut novel by M.O. Walsh about the summer when the narrator – 15 years old and living in an upscale neighborhood in Baton Rouge – experienced the rape of a neighbor named Lindy Simpson. Lindy, also 15 years old, was the subject of a somewhat obsessive crush on the narrator’s part. Most of the book centers around his relationship with Lindy in the years leading up to and following the rape.
In My Sunshine Away, the narrator, looking back two decades later, explores his adolescence and how formative Lindy’s rape was in his life. He himself went through a lot of upheaval in his life around the same time – his father left his mother, and his older sister was killed in a car accident. But as a self-absorbed teenager, he didn’t experience the sense of loss around those events as acutely as he would later in life. Similarly with Lindy’s rape, he experienced it solely through the prism of an adolescent boy with a crush on the victim, with little capacity to understand how it affected her. In retelling the events of those years, he finally learns to appreciate what those around him were going through while he was lost in his own world.
For the most part, I really enjoyed Walsh’s writing. It was crisp and descriptive, intimate and honest. I got sucked into this story quickly and felt deeply connected to the narrator, in large part because I spent so much time in his head. Some reviewers have criticized the book for a few tangents it takes in places, such as describing in great length the impact of Hurricane Katrina’s displaced New Orleanians on the city of Baton Rouge. Those tangents didn’t bother me; I found them pretty interesting and, even if unrelated to Lindy’s rape, good for atmosphere. Baton Rouge itself is an interesting setting, sensual and rich in its food, heat and terrain.
My quibbles, because I always have a few: first, Walsh included too much explicit foreshadowing, which I hate. For example, the narrator would say things like, “Those things would come back to haunt me” or “our home was never the same” or “this is when things got interesting”. I much prefer when the story unspools naturally, without those narrative cues, which I think reflect the author’s lack of confidence in the reader.
MILD SPOILER: I also found the end, in which the mystery of who raped Lindy Simpson, underwhelming. The suspect likely would have been identified earlier, given the circumstantial evidence. I think Walsh expected his resolution to be dramatic and unexpected, but it wasn’t.
Overall, though, My Sunshine Away captured adolescence, with all of its inconsistencies, humiliations, passion and mystery, beautifully, and for that I really enjoyed it.
I listened to My Sunshine Away on audio. The narrator, Kirby Heyborne performed the book with a gravelly, passionate voice that was perfect for the adult version of the narrator. I thought he did a great job and I highly recommend the audio.