Sunday, May 5, 2013

[Review] Steal My Sunshine by Emily Gale -- Aussie

Click on image for Goodreads page
Publication (dd/mm/yyyy): 01/05/2013
Publisher: Random House (Woolshed Press)
Pages: 330
Source: Publisher (thanks Dot!)

Book Tunes
Missy Higgins - Where I Stood
Meg & Dia - Just One of Those Things 

Violence Sexual ContentProfanity

My Rating: 
Lovely, affecting and true.

My thoughts

You’ll never know dear, how much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away…

Steal My Sunshine is Aussie author Emily Gale’s debut contemporary YA novel. It is a mixed bag of good – good writing, good voice, good characters, good message, good feel, good Aussie-ness. I had one problem with it, which I’ll go over later, but my connection to the characters was so strong that my overall experience was still super positive.

Steal My Sunshine follows the emotional journey of Hannah as her family begins to fall apart in more ways than one. When her dad, with whom she is closest, walks out on the family without warning, Hannah’s mum goes into reclusion while Hannah’s brother (Sam) tries to pick up the pieces. Meanwhile, Hannah’s crush on her best friend’s (Chloe) brother, Ethan, grows into something that may stir up trouble in the long run. There are also family secrets that begin with Essie, Hannah and Sam’s boisterous grandmother, that may be the key to making things right again.


This story is split up into two narratives: Hannah and young Essie.

Hannah is shy and uncertain about everything. There are times when she feels completely helpless about what’s going on in her life, which I can relate to. She has two strong females in her life, her best friend and her grandmother, and when they finally meet, she worries that she will be left out. One day, Essie begins sharing her secret with the girls, which begins decades ago in London, when her father’s friend impregnated her and she was shipped off to Australia. That’s only the start of what is a horrifying and gruelling story.

The historical aspect of the novel is something that I’d never known before. It’s horrible that forced adoption and convent incarceration actually happened in Australia too, and it’s definitely a piece of history that has been swept under the rug. Essie’s story/secret gripped me in a really thought-provoking manner. I also liked the way it was presented in the story—in small doses, so that you can take a breather in between.

Overall the way it was written is just perfect. I can’t explain it, but Steal My Sunshine reads like an Aussie YA novel and it has a great Australian vibe to it.

I love when family is explored, and the complexity surrounding Hannah’s made me ponder on the meaning of family. Hannah’s exchanges with her brother (Sam) are always hostile, whereas Chloe’s relationship with Ethan is so perfect in comparison. Their mum cannot stand Essie (grandmother), and it is only until halfway through that you truly understand why. Every relationship (some I have not mentioned) felt authentic, especially once you understand more of the family history.

The romance simmers in the background; Ethan wasn’t ever-present in Hannah’s thoughts and I felt that the way in which Emily Gale handled this arc was refreshing. It was true to life, full of uncertainties and second-guesses. The love interest is seen in two different lights: while she adores him, her brother (they used to be friends) says that he isn’t good. We don’t really get to learn about him and considering that both of them have a bias, we can’t know for certain where he stands. The progression of the relationship is very significant and ties well with Essie’s story. It’s a personal preference of mine, but I liked that the romance was subtle.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph there was something that I had a problem with. The ending. It's kind of choppy and too tidy for my tastes. It didn’t feel that authentic, the way certain characters reacted. Though, in saying this, I can’t say how I would have ended it; it’s just that I don’t feel like the debilitating effects of life-long secrets can be solved in such a short time frame. For me, the ending was just okay, especially compared to the rest of the book (which I loved).

Steal My Sunshine is a novel about family history, love, secrets and the uncertainties of growing up. This debut novel is affecting and beautifully told; Gale explores the horrors of forced adoption in an engaging manner. I cannot wait to see more from this new Aussie author!

Quotes

First line: The morning it started Mum freaked out about the Christmas tree. 

Favourite quotes:

"Sometimes they looked happier than I felt – how were you supposed to tell if your level of sadness or worry was more or less than someone else’s anyway? Maybe I was really screwed up. Maybe if I told Dad I needed him, he’d stay. (45, Hannah)

"You needed your mum in a crisis, even if you didn’t get on the rest of the time – Chloe hardly went a day without dropping hers into conversation, as if the loss defined her. (109, Hannah)

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AUSTRALIA: A&R | QBD | Readings

INTERNATIONAL:
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I have received this review copy in return for an honest review.



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