Sunshine by Marion Dane Bauer. Candlewick Press, 2021. 9781536214116
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5
Genre: Realistic/adventure fiction
What did you like about the book? When Ben was 3, his mother abruptly abandoned him and his father and moved to a remote island on a northern Minnesota lake. Ben has been lovingly raised by his cautious father, and has always felt like his mother left because of something he did. Ben understandably has a great deal of anxiety, and his dog Sunshine helps him navigate uncomfortable situations. The thing about Sunshine, though, is that she isn’t real, although Ben can see her quite clearly and even strokes her ear when he is nervous. When Ben was younger, his dad didn’t really mind him having an imaginary pet, but now he thinks it’s time Ben gave the dog up.
Hoping to make things right and get his mother to come home to stay, Ben has convinced his parents to allow him to visit her for a week. His mother’s home has no running water or electricity and is only accessible by canoe; upon arrival, Ben’s anxiety level is elevated by the prospect of using an outhouse, sleeping alone in a high loft, and eating unfamiliar food. But he is determined to show his mother that he’s changed, so he bravely conquers those issues, accompanies her on outings to her favorite spots, and offers to do some solo exploring each afternoon so his mother has time to work on her writing, all with the help of Sunshine. As the week goes by, Ben grapples with so many emotions as he tries to reconcile with the virtual stranger that is his mother – anger and fear mix with love and hope. The only topic that seems safe for the two of them is Sunshine; his mother accepts Sunshine’s presence, telling Ben that the dog is his daemon. And when disaster strikes the island during a terrible storm, it is Sunshine who helps bring Ben and his mom together.
Marion Dane Bauer has woven a heart-rending story of forgiveness and acceptance. Ben is such an endearing protagonist; he is trying so hard to figure out his mother and their relationship, when it shouldn’t be his responsibility. Even as most will be solidly on Ben’s team, one can’t help but empathize with his mother as well, when it is revealed the true reason that she left. The vivid descriptions of the wild setting and the sometimes frightening adventures will hold readers’ attention, as will the slow revelation of the truth about Sunshine (it takes a while to realize for sure that she is an imaginary dog).
Anything you did not like about the book? No
To whom would you recommend this book? A great choice for upper elementary fans of the author, or Katherine Applegate, and readers of wilderness adventures such as Pax, or classics by Paulsen, Jean George, or Will Hobbs.
Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries
Where would you shelve it? Fiction
Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.
Date of review: October 25, 2021