“What I want is for Bren to press her lips against mine. To see if kissing her is different than kissing the boys I’ve been with.”
Title: South of Sunshine
Author: Dana Elmendorf
Publication: April 1st 2016 by Albert Whitman
Summary from Goodreads:
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.
South of Sunshine was sweet, but like that candy that sticks on the back of your tooth and hurts and hurts and hurts. That probably sounds harsher than I mean for it to be, but, oops?
This book is one of those sickly sweet coming out stories that you love but it makes you cringe all at the same time because it is like swimming in a vat of goddamn nacho cheese. Small town Tennesse, hatred of anyone different (in this case homosexuality), hiding in a closet, and then boom! Love, addition, and everything you could have ever wanted to happen just puts the icing on the cake. South of Sunshine was a very good read, if you can overlook some small things – but I’ll get into that later. It is a story of discovery, of fighting yourself and then fighting for what you believe in. It was very good, it was just too much good.
Kaycee McCoy, likes girls, hides behind boys. She tries to fit in, she tries to pretend like she isn’t who she really is – she suffocates herself in her cloud of guilt. Then, all of a sudden, everything in her perfect plan to fit in goes horribly, wonderfully wrong. A new girl moves to Sunshine, Tennessee. A new girl, who, despite the stigmatized view in the town, isn’t afraid to be who she really is and vocalize things that would probably make your grandma blush brighter than a cherry. She is adventurous, she is witty, she is smart, oh, and she’s also gay.
I really did like Kaycee. Though I couldn’t identify with her struggle, I could find myself identifying with her strength. I felt sorry for her, but I never pitied her. Honestly, there was more than one occasion where I sort of got fed up with her Mary-Sue bullshit and I wished she would just grow a pair and stand up for herself. But, I can also see why it would be difficult to do so in her circumstances – and therefore, I found myself respecting her. But, she was also the main issue I had with the book – besides the pacing. Kaycee, while real and surprisingly complex, was also an unavoidable Mary Sue. I couldn’t escape Perfect Kaycee having to be perfect all the damn time – at her own expense. It was actually quite sickening. Additionally, her sweet little romance with Bren (whom I adore) was just… too much. There was too much of everything and not enough of the things we really needed. It wasn’t real, it wasn’t believable, and it wasn’t enjoyable. It was sort of like biting down on a caramel and getting it stuck on a cavity or something equally as painful.
My other big issue was the beginning. While the overall pacing was awful – though it did sort of redeem itself at the end – the start of this book is so damn unbelievable. It was rocky, shaky, and all other possible ways you can call something unstable. It’s confusing, it’s too fast, and it is simply a thorn in my side. I wanted more – I wanted a backstory, I wanted to see relationships build and break. South of Sunshine kind just shoves it up in your face and expects you to both understand and care. Um… sorry, but no.
Overall, while South of Sunshine is a pretty good read if you’re capable of overlooking minute details – it is also an unrealistic, almost sickeningly perfect story that seems to be clinging onto your bare minimum sensibilities for dear life. It was charming, the setting was charming, the characters were charming – but charm is not enough. I needed more beyond the surface layer, and in that respect I found this book to be sorely lacking. But, don’t count this book out of the running just yet – you could potentially like it more than I did. Just… be prepared to read a shallow first draft rather than what could have been a deep, profound final copy.