My Sunshine Away
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February 2015 Indie Next List
— Nancy McFarlane, Fiction Addiction, Greenville, SC
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THE INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
-A tantalizing mystery and a tender coming-of-age story...Unputdownable.---Oprah.com
In the summer of 1989, a Baton Rouge neighborhood best known for cookouts on sweltering summer afternoons, cauldrons of spicy crawfish, and passionate football fandom is rocked by a violent crime when fifteen-year-old Lindy Simpson--free spirit, track star, and belle of the block--is attacked late one evening near her home. As the dark side of this idyllic stretch of Southern suburbia is revealed, the close-knit neighborhood is irreversibly transformed.
In My Sunshine Away, M.O. Walsh brilliantly juxtaposes the enchantment of a charmed childhood with the gripping story of a violent crime, unraveling families, and consuming adolescent love. Acutely wise and deeply honest, it is an astonishing and page-turning debut about the meaning of family, the power of memory, and our ability to forgive.
Named A Book of the Year by NPR, The Dallas Morning News, Kirkus Reviews, and Booklist
An Entertainment Weekly 'Must List' Pick
Praise For My Sunshine Away…
Praise for My Sunshine Away
“[A] wrenching and wondrous coming-of-age tale. Walsh’s debut novel is a mystery, a Louisiana mash note and a deeply compassionate, clear-eyed take on the addled teen-boy mind.” —People
“Excellent… Walsh has an innate knack for plot and suspense, but the real pleasure here is his prose. This stunning and gracefully written debut novel is a total page-turner until the very end.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Both a tantalizing mystery and a tender coming-of-age story, My Sunshine Away is equally capable of making a reader cry…and scream…. And yet, you’re never exhausted trying to piece together clues to solve the crime. The power of the book lies in its spot-on characters…. Unputdownable.” —Oprah.com
“[A] rich, unexpected, exceptional book…. A gripping read that’s more than a thriller, more than a traditional Southern tale, My Sunshine Away is a brilliant meditation on the unpredictability and the lifelong effects of childhood events and relationships.” —Chicago Tribune
“Just 14 pages into reading My Sunshine Away, M.O. Walsh’s debut novel about a boy growing up in Baton Rouge, La., I had a thought that I scribbled in the margin: ‘So To Kill.’ The narrator, after all, was a bit like Harper Lee’s Scout, a person now all grown up and looking back at childhood. And both books begin with the memory of a tragic moment. To Kill a Mockingbird, of course, starts with Scout’s brother’s badly broken elbow. Walsh’s book begins with the rape of a teenage girl next door. There are some striking similarities to the stories…. My Sunshine Away is also simply, like Lee’s novel, a great work of fiction. It’s a page-turning thriller with a heartbreaking crime and an intriguing cast of suspects. But it’s also a love story to Louisiana, with passages that force the reader to pause and contemplate the ‘wrong-ended telescoping’ that gives the state a bad reputation…. It’s a book about love and forgiveness and family and hope….Turning the pages with be a necessary treat.… [Walsh’s] haunting, lyrical novel will compel you to look back on your own life’s mysteries, your own childhood fog.”—The Fort Worth Star Telegram
“Try and restrain yourself from flying through the pages of this wonderful novel. Instead savor this lush Louisiana mystery that takes you back to what life tasted like when you were still somewhat naïve to the ways of the world. Not just Southern, but American in its vivid Baton Rouge colors and scents, treetops and grasses, My Sunshine Away is the story of how the events of our youth profoundly affect us as adults. The last page is as satisfying as the first. A mystery you cannot wait to solve.” —Kathryn Stockett, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Help
"Recalls the best of Pat Conroy: the rich Southern atmosphere, the interplay of darkness and light in adolescence, the combination of brisk narrative suspense with philosophical musings on memory, manhood, and truth.... Celebrate, fiction lovers: The gods of Southern gothic storytelling have inducted a junior member." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Suspenseful, compassionate, and absorbing, Walsh’s word-perfect rendering of the doubts, insecurities, bravado, and idealism of teens deserves to be placed in the hands of readers of Tom Franklin, Hannah Pittard, and Jeffrey Eugenides.” —Booklist (starred review)
“[A] haunting, mysterious debut.” —US Weekly
“[A] gripping 300-page debut novel that is already one of the year’s most anticipated books…. [P]itch perfect on details…Walsh [is] a master storyteller.” —The New Orleans Times Picayune
“I really loved this book. I am in awe, swept up in the quiet beauty of the prose, and in the wisdom and compassion of the narrator. I can't praise it enough. My Sunshine Away is not a thriller; it is not genre fiction; but it's realism at its finest, and it is a page turner—a story made memorable in paragraph after paragraph by the brilliance of its author, and by the scope of the questions he asks as to how we live this life to the fullest as loving and moral beings. It’s about love, obsession, and pain. Such a beautiful book. Such a remarkable book. I can't praise it enough.” —Anne Rice, #1 nationally bestselling author of Prince Lestat
"M.O. Walsh's marvelous debut novel is so thick with searching nostalgia and melancholy, it gives the reader the same sense of authenticity and emotional satisfaction more typically associated with a good memoir. My Sunshine Away is the kind of novel you simply can't put down...a great mystery and a wonderful coming of age story...deeply felt." —Dallas Morning News
“My Sunshine Away is one of the best novels of 2015…. I do not believe my opinion of this incredibly entertaining novel will diminish with time…. From the first gripping sentence to the very last, Walsh has written a compelling novel that gets tremendous strength from the appeal of its narrator….” —The Free Lance-Star
“My Sunshine Away is that rarest find, a page-turner you want to read slowly and a literary novel you can’t look away from. At times funny, at times spine-tinglingly suspenseful, and at times just flat-out wise, this novel is also a meditation on memory, how it can destroy or damn us but redeem us as well. It’s a book to read and reread, one that will only get better with time, like its writer. I’m already excited about M. O. Walsh’s next book, whatever it is.” —Tom Franklin, bestselling author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
“In his stunning first novel, Baton Rouge native M.O. Walsh evokes a languid Southern Gothic atmosphere, rife with a hazy, heat-drenched poetry…. Reminiscent of Pat Conroy’s sweeping family epics and Jeffrey Eugenides’ folkloric intrigue…My Sunshine Away achieves a rare feat: both a page-turning mystery and literary-quality novel, you’ll be charmed, impressed, and engrossed in this meditation on memory’s ambiguity, and how a childhood tragedy can affect us more deeply than we consciously know.” —Bustle
"Much more than a simple coming-of-age story; it is a rumination on how events in one’s life can appear differently depending on where and when they are experienced and recalled.... Rarely does a new author display the skill to develop a page-turner with such a literary tone. Readers of both popular and literary fiction will get their fixes from this novel." —Library Journal
“From beginning to end, My Sunshine Away is full of wisdom, wit, and wonder.” —Bookpage
“Tenderly nostalgic…and thoroughly immersive.” —Publishers Weekly
“This is literature of the highest order. Although the book snaps with the tautness of a thriller––and Walsh keeps the reader guessing until the end, as the best mystery writers do––My Sunshine Away also asks essential questions, like how much responsibility we have to each other, and whether we can we ever fully reassemble the pieces of broken lives. And while Walsh hints at answers, it’s his willingness to engage such ideas that makes My Sunshine Away an important work of fiction. We need more novelists with the guts and clarity of M. O. Walsh.” ––Matthew Thomas, New York Times–bestselling author of We Are Not Ourselves
“If you start this novel, you will not put it down. My Sunshine Away is a riveting, suspenseful, page-turning mystery. It is also a wise, insightful, and beautifully written novel. This is an extraordinary debut.” ––Jill McCorkle, New York Times–bestselling author of Life After Life
“M.O. Walsh has written one of the best books I've read in a long while. An outstanding examination of the way that the past and the weight of our memories shape us, My Sunshine Away, thanks to Walsh’s verve and total control over the narrative, feels utterly original.” —Kevin Wilson, author of The Family Fang
“Q: When is it a thrill to feel gutted? A: When you start reading the book you hold in your hands. M. O. Walsh’s My Sunshine Away reminds us that art can be wrenching and a delight, that pain—if examined through wit, intimacy, and wisdom—can be a salve. This novel is great.”––Darin Strauss, internationally bestselling author of Half a Life and Chang and Eng
“My Sunshine Away begins with a crime. But the novel is so much more than a mystery; it’s half lament, half love letter to youth and to possibility. On every page, we feel complicit, perhaps even guilty. Guilty of what? For ever having been young ourselves. The magic of My Sunshine Away is in M. O. Walsh’s extraordinary ability to make us long for the heartache of youth and its inevitable sins. This is an awe-inspiring debut.” —Hannah Pittard, author of Reunion and The Fates Will Find Their Way
“If I were asked to list the qualities the ideal novel would offer, I’d start by demanding beautiful sentences. I’d want the opening to grab me and I’d want the ending to refuse to let go. I’d ask for characters who consistently surprise by being somehow deeper and less predictable than we could ever have guessed they’d be. I’d want Place to be written with a capital P. I’d want a mystery at the heart of the story, and a mystery or two in every heart. And when I finished reading the book, I’d want to be both wiser and sadder than when I started. M. O. Walsh’s magnificent novel My Sunshine Away afforded me all these pleasures and more. This is one of the best novels I’ve read in ages.” —Steve Yarbrough, author of The Realm of Last Chances
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 9780399169526, 320pp.
Publication Date: February 10, 2015
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
The narrator recounts the story out of chronological order. Why did the author choose to tell the story this way? How does this narrative structure allow him to explore the ways that events in our youth shape our lives as adults?
The book begins with the story of a rape. It also deals with child and animal abuse, as well as death and divorce. Yet the book does not feel bleak. Could My Sunshine Away be described as an optimistic book? If so, how?
The narrator feels that people have preconceived notions or stereotypes about both Baton Rouge, where he is from, and the South in general. In what ways does this book try to subvert those stereotypes? In what ways does it reinforce them? Is the place where you grew up stereotyped? How do you feel connected to that place? How do you feel separated from it?
Although this novel is intensely personal, it also touches on moments of national importance, such as the Challenger disaster and the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. How have world events affected you personally? At a time of constant news coverage, is there a difference between local and global?
At the end of the book, we realize the narrator is telling this story to his unborn son. Were you surprised? Did this discovery change your perception of the book and why he was telling the story? Do you think this “audience” affects the way it is told? Is it more honest, or less so?
The title of the book is the last line of the Louisiana state song, “You Are My Sunshine.” In what ways does it play into the themes of the book?
Chapter 28 is devoted entirely to the differences between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. How is this important to understanding the relationship between Lindy and the narrator?
Look back to the discussion of whiteflies on page 47. These insects reappear several times later in the book. How might they serve as a metaphor for memory in the novel?
Although the narrator spends years of his life thinking about Lindy Simpson, he comes to the realization that he never really knew her. What mistakes was he making in his attempts to understand her, both before and after the crime?
When the narrator begins the story of what he discovered in Jacques Landry’s private room, he has to stop himself and recount a good memory first. He says that doing this helps “keep darkness from winning.” Is it cowardly or perhaps dishonest for him to shuffle his memories around in this way, or is it wise? In what ways do you use your own memories to construct the type of person you want to be?
During one of the narrator’s lowest points, he gets great comfort from his uncle Barry. However, Uncle Barry is far from a typical role model. Why is he such a great help for the narrator? Can people to serve as role models or counselors even when they are deeply flawed?
The narrator is never named in the book. Why do you think the author decided to leave him unnamed? How does this affect the reading experience?
At one point, Julie tells the narrator that it would be up to her if she wanted to share painful moments in her past with him. Should partners share everything with each other, or are some secrets important to keep? Does anyone really know everything about someone else? How do we navigate our own secrets with the people we love?
At the end of the novel, the narrator tells his son that he wants the two of them to be “good men.” What does that mean to the narrator? Does the novel suggest a way of becoming a good man? Is the idea of being a “good” person wholly subjective, or are there moral touchstones to goodness that we all agree on?