I read a lot of young adult fiction and find much of it “dumbed-down” these days…riding along on plot ploys and dramatic twists designed to capture the elusive attention of our multi-tasking, digitally-immersed youth. It was refreshing and uplifting to land in a world that is both intelligent and exquisitely sensitive: the poetry; the philosophical reflections; the complexity of submerged and barely recognised feelings that can float or drown an adolescent so easily; and the shades of grey reflected in each character. It’s not possible to label any heroes or villains in this story, which is about real human beings.
I recognised in Sun so many young girls, including a remembered self, who find themselves caught in relationships that assume a need for continuity in stark contrast to all the signs this relationship is wrong, wrong and wrong again.
Some reviewers have expressed dissatisfaction with Sun for staying in her accidentally-formed and mismatched relationship with Mark…but isn’t this exactly what so often happens? I believe our frustration and heartache with and for Sun is a sign that the author, Julie Gittus, has done her work well. She has drawn us into a world that gives us a vicarious experience of what it is to be an insecure teenager, longing for love and authenticity, while needing acceptance and being terrified of hurting anyone’s feelings. And thus Sun settles for less. At least on the surface.
Beyond and behind the part Sun is playing with Mark (and Gittus captures the half-heartedness and creeping doubts so exactly), lies the dream of what she might have had, or might still have with her secret poetry pen pal, Tycho. And this deeper truer self never gives up, reaching for a relationship and a way of being that seems to offer so much more than is possible for her with Mark.
The artistry and the wisdom of the author are woven into every page of this meditation on young romance. I loved the humanity of all the characters; even Mark who is far from being wholly the bad guy. There are touching moments where we are given glimpses into his vulnerability and his own longing to love and be loved. Likewise with Sun’s parents who are struggling to find meaningful ways to relate with each other and their daughter.
This is a story that will move you deeply with its poignancy, hold you entranced with its poetry, and remind you what writing should be—opening us into inner worlds that allow us to reflect upon and accept our own humanity with greater compassion and humility.