One night during the sweltering summer of 1989, 15-year-old Lindy Simpson is raped just down the street from her suburban home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Her assault rocks the idyllic neighborhood as Lindy, her family, her classmates, and her neighbors deal with the fallout. Decades later, her childhood neighbor reflects on the summer that changed all of their lives and the roller coaster years that followed.
M.O. Walsh’s debut novel My Sunshine Away is at once a gripping whodunnit as the community tries to solve the mystery of who raped pretty, popular Lindy and a beautifully rendered coming-of-age story as our narrator, who was 14 and secretly in love with the victim at the time of her rape, deals with a complicated range of emotions.
This novel blew me away. It has enough tension to keep the reader engrossed and guessing at the truth, but it’s also a thoughtful meditation on memory, growing up, and learning when the truth can be more harmful than helpful. It’s tinged with nostalgia and conveys a deeply rooted love of Baton Rouge.
I haven’t read The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, but My Sunshine Away reminded me a bit of the movie adaptation, in that a man (or chorus of men) looks back through the decades to tell the story of the girl (or girls) who fascinated him as a teenager. Although the details are very different, this book has a similar sense of nostalgia and the experience of being haunted by an event you cannot change or understand.
My Sunshine Away is an incredible work of Southern fiction about growing up, loss of innocence, and realizing that all humans have the capacity to be both menacing and cowardly. It’s a beautiful book that will appear to readers of commercial and literary fiction alike.
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