April 1, 2016
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What is Kaycee willing to risk for the sake of love?
And what will she risk for acceptance?
In Sunshine, Tennessee, the main event in town is Friday night football, the biggest party of the year is held in a field filled with pickup trucks, and church attendance is mandatory. For Kaycee Jean McCoy, life in Sunshine means dating guys she has no interest in, saying only “yes, ma’am” when the local bigots gossip at her mom’s cosmetics salon, and avoiding certain girls at all costs. Girls like Bren Dawson.
Unlike Kaycee, Bren doesn’t really conceal who she is. But as the cool, worldly new girl, nobody at school seems to give her any trouble. Maybe there’s no harm if Kaycee gets closer to her too, as long as she can keep that part of her life a secret, especially from her family and her best friend. But the more serious things get with Bren, the harder it is to hide from everyone else. Kaycee knows Sunshine has a darker side for people like her, and she’s risking everything for the chance to truly be herself.
Kaycee McCoy just wants to keep her head down, find a boyfriend she can maybe stand for a more than a few weeks, finish her senior year and find some way to , even eventually, get out of Sunshine, Tennessee. Until then, she's going to have to ignore certain things. Well, certain things (like feelings, attraction, the truth about herself) and one girl in particular: Bren Dawson.
New girl Bren's arrival in Kaycee's life makes it so much harder to pretend, though - and Kaycee may no long want to.
I loved the setting of South of Sunshine. There were quite a few things about Sunshine, Tennessee and its residents that I did not love, but I did love the portrayal of them, Kaycee's place in the community and what it all meant to her and who she was (and who she was willing to appear to be). There's a passage in the beginning that lets readers know how well Kaycee knows the town, that she knows this person and that shop and you can see how much she really loves it there.
There are things, of course, that she dislikes, has to ignore or wishes could be different. As much as she wants out of Sunshine, Tennessee it is still her home.
This novel is a very honest look at a teenage girl struggling with being gay, in the South. She doesn't believe being gay is wrong, but she also isn't proud of it or willing to admit it. She knows where she lives, who her mother is and what people would think. Or thinks she does.
I really appreciated that Kaycee's faith, her church attendance, and the role religion played in her life was so much a part of the story. She has spent nearly every Sunday morning of her seventeen years in a church pew. I love (love) that for this book accepting being gay was not synonymous with eschewing religion and/or God. Not only do I give Kaycee (and the author) points for making note of that there are other Levitical Laws, not just the oft cited one about homosexuality, but I thought she had some very astute thoughts on homosexuality and God.
I do have to say that, while I really enjoyed South of Sunshine, I don't think it was a pivotal book for me. I liked the characters, found them relatable, honest and enjoyed their stories but I don't know that it changed me. I can absolutely see, however, that for people in a different situation, South of Sunshine could be an important read.
Kaycee, Van, Bren, their friends and classmates, Sunshine, the high school, thee adults of the town, the racial, socioeconomic and sexual orientation divides are all very honest and true. Things aren't sugar-coated, Kaycee isn't just blown away by how, really, secretly, everyone is accepting and embracing of anyone gay. This book stays honest even when it's painful, but still somehow offers hope at the same time.
received, for review, from publisher via NEtGalley