Book Review: Sunny Side Up by Jennifer and Matthew Holm

Sunny Side UpBy Awnali Mills

Tonight during my dinner break, I read Sunny Side Up by Jennifer and Matthew Holm.  This graphic novel set in 1976-1977 tells the story of a young girl whose family is struggling with an older brother who has a drug problem.

Sunny is eagerly making plans with her best friend for their annual summer trip, when the plans are abruptly cancelled.  Instead, Sunny is sent to stay with her grandfather in Florida, who lives in a retirement community that doesn’t allow children.  Sunny is allowed a pass and eventually makes friends with the groundskeeper’s son.  Together they make pocket change by finding the contraband cats that the seniors in the community keep losing.

The story of Sunny’s family problems is told in flashbacks to 1976.  Sunny’s guilt and grief over her brother and their relationship informs the issues she has with her grandfather’s cigarette habit, and eventually the reader learns why Sunny has been sent to her grandfather’s house.  Eventually, Sunny is able to speak the truth—a very satisfying conclusion.

The Holms wrote the book together based on their own family’s experience.  This insight enables them to really understand what it’s like for a sibling who has no control over the situation, but is asked to keep secrets and lie.  Having grown up myself in a community that was mostly seniors, I totally identified with Sunny’s view of the retirement community, and I was about the same age as Sunny during the time period, so that was pretty cool for me (yes, and $.50 really could buy a comic book back then!).

Fans of Jennifer Holm (Babymouse, Comic Squad) will find the graphics very familiar, but this isn’t a funny story, so they might be a bit disappointed if they were expecting funny.  Still, this is a well written graphic novel with a powerful message for families dealing with drug addiction.  It’s not too deep or too preachy, it just tells the story of one girl’s experience.

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