South of Sunshine by Dana Elmendorf
Published by Albert Whitman on April 1st 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Amazon ♡ Chapters ♡ TBD
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.
I really enjoyed South of Sunshine. Right from the start, I was emotionally connected with the characters, which made the heartbreak that much harder to bear.
For some reason, I had this idea in my head that this would be a sweet contemporary. Ha. Nope. This was an incredible book that made real for me the experiences that I am aware of and have heard about in the news about what gay teens go through, but I’d never really appreciated on an emotional level. This book made me so angry and made me cry so much. Luckily, there was an element of hope, but I feel like so much more needs to be done in the real world.
I did find that, about a third of the way in, I started to lose interest a little. There was a bit of a lull once Kaycee and Bren started hanging out good and. It had all been very chemically charged, once Kaycee given to the chemistry just a little, I found it was a bit of a waiting game. When it hit, it hit. Ow.
One of my favourite things about this book was the world-building. I’ve never been to the South, and by that I mean the American South. I base all my assumptions on TV and movies. This book did fit in with my thoughts about the place, with its combination of easy-going, outdoor fun and its deep-rooted old-fashioned belief system. Games like cat and mouse and bonfire parties with hay bales sound like so much fun. On the other hand, I would not be able to handle the heavy religion and prejudice. I wanted to slap a lot of older women in this!
The characters did feel very high school to me, which is fitting since they are in high school. The way that Kaycee referred to other people, while it had a tad bit of slut-shaming at times, was –honestly– a lot like real people think. I know that that sucks, but teenagers are not 100% openminded, and no one is untouched by the environment they’re raised in. I will say now that I haven’t had to experience coming out, so I can’t say how realistic the experience was, but I did like how some people accepted Kaycee before she accepted herself. I’m going to make myself cry again thinking of these special people.
Overall, I thought this was an engaging and emotional story, and I think everyone should read it, no matter where they stand on the spectrum.
I was not a fan of this book. It took all the tropes of being an LGBTQ+ person and did not do them justice. This book started off with a case of slut shaming and I should have put it down then and there because it only got worse from there. It was so frustrating to read about how gay people are “cowards” for not coming out and that is not helpful to teens living in the gay community who experience the type of hatred and bigotry that these teens experienced.
The setting was realistic: I grew up in a small town that had this same kind of feel and hatred toward people and ideals that Kaycee and Van experienced. I felt like I was transported back in time to when I was in high school, but that still wasn’t a good enough reason for some of the hatred and bigotry that was in this novel that had context but still should have been said “this is bad” instead of just letting it happen. AND THE BIPHOBIA WAS FUCKING FANTASTIC TO READ ABOUT. LOVE WHEN PEOPLE IRRATIONALLY HATE BI PEOPLE (AKA ME) JUST BECAUSE WE ARE BI. Poor Chelsea, or should I say Chesty as that is what our main character called her in the novel because god forbid someone have breasts.
The characters were alright but nothing special. I didn’t think they were anything other than shells full of tropes that you expect a gay person to be but we are so much more than that. We are not defined by our sexual orientation and it’s really frustrating to be seen that way. I just have so much pent up rage and anger about this that I can’t even articulate properly why I feel this way.
There were some fluffy moments but the quasi-gay pride parade at the end made me vomit in my mouth. Because that’s what all gay people want!!! And then when Kaycee says “oh I can’t wait to go to Gay Pride next year!!!” as if it is the end goal of every gay person’s life. Kind of like how going to prom is the end goal of every high school girl’s life *eye roll.*
I don’t recommend this book at all. You can really tell that this is a person who has not been affected by any hatred for being in the LGBTQ+ community writing about what they saw their peers go through on a surface level rather than a deep level. Instead, I would recommend books like AS I DESCENDED by Robin Talley, WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS by Anna-Marie McLemore, or MORE HAPPY THAN NOT by Adam Silvera; or at least any book about the LGBTQ+ community in which the author is a part of the community or at least treats us with more fucking respect.
The review that I like the most that explains my thoughts better is Lo on Goodreads. Check it out and see why I am so frustrated to the point that I can’t even explain why I’m frustrated.
Dani liked this one but Jamie didn’t. We think this difference is because of the fact that Jamie identifies in the LGBTQ+ community and is sick of seeing portrayals of it in this way. Jamie recommends you read other books, but Dani says you can read this one with a grain of salt understanding that it is not the best representation but will make you feel things.
One person will win a signed copy of SOUTH OF SUNSHINE by Dana Elmendorf! US only!