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Sunny Side Up

Review

Sunny Side Up

Graphic novels are, in many ways, the best of both worlds --- great stories are wonderfully told and shown by the images that fill the page. Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, the brother-sister duo that bring readers the whimsical Baby Mouse series, have teamed up with illustrator Lark Pien on SUNNY SIDE UP, a graphic novel with lots of visual vibrancy and rich storytelling that explores a very serious issue: addiction.
 
In August of 1976, 10-year-old Sunny Lewin is sent to spend part of her summer in West Palm Beach, Florida with her grandfather. Sunny is excited to be in the Sunshine State and to hang out with Gramps, expecting Walt Disney World and the beach. Instead, she finds herself in the quiet Pine Palms retirement community, sleeping on an uncomfortable hide-a-bed, going grocery shopping for fun, swimming by herself in the pool and worrying about her grandfather's smoking habit. 
 
SUNNY SIDE UP is achingly realistic and sad as Sunny's heartbreak is captured in words and images. It is also optimistic as it shows the power of love found in family, friendships and self. 
 
Things get a lot better when she meets Buzz, the son of the Pine Palms groundskeeper. Buzz not only keeps her company while she is in Florida, but also introduces her to the world of comic books. However, her love for Gramps and adventures with Buzz cannot keep her mind of what is happening back home in Pennsylvania, including her crying baby brother and the increasingly dangerous behavior of her older brother, Dale.
 
Because of his drug use, Dale has transformed from heroic big brother into a violent young man whose choices are threatening his health and the stability of the family. When Dale punches Sunny when aiming for their father, Sunny's parents make the decision to send her to Florida as they deal with Dale's problems. SUNNY SIDE UP flashes back to the events in Pennsylvania that lead up to her time with her grandfather, and Sunny tries her best to understand what has happened to Dale and make sense of her complicated feelings for him. 
 
Holm and Holm do an amazing job of telling this complex story and they are wonderfully supported by Pien's bright illustrations. The dark themes of addiction and family turmoil are balanced out by Sunny's relationships with Buzz and Gramps and the perspective she gains in Florida. SUNNY SIDE UP is achingly realistic and sad as Sunny's heartbreak is captured in words and images. It is also optimistic as it shows the power of love found in family, friendships and self. Sunny finds inspiration and new heroes in the comic books she reads with Buzz, but it the actual people in her life that matter most to her and give her the strength to go home again. This is powerful book to read and discuss with young readers. 

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Engelman on August 26, 2015

Sunny Side Up
by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

  • Publication Date: August 25, 2015
  • Genres: Graphic Novel
  • : 224 pages
  • Publisher: Graphix
  • ISBN-10: 0545741653
  • ISBN-13: 978-0545741651