I won’t lie: books that take place in my home state are a huge draw for me. Living in the politically-dubious but naturally beautiful state of North Carolina, I am graced with plenty of choices. Thanks, Sarah Dessen and Nicholas Sparks!
Why so many authors come from here, choose to live here, or deign to write about this place may always be a mystery to me, but it’s one reason I read the hot-off-the-press middle grade release from Skyhorse Publishing, Call Me Sunflower, by Miriam Spitzer Franklin.
NC setting, NC author, and a premise both hilarious and heartwarming? Sold.
Sunny Beringer hates her first name—her real first name—Sunflower.
And she hates that her mom has suddenly left behind her dad, Scott, and uprooted their family miles away from New Jersey to North Carolina just so she can pursue some fancy degree. Sunny has to live with a grandmother she barely knows, and she’s had to leave her beloved cat and all her friends behind. And no one else seems to think anything is wrong.
So she creates “Sunny Beringer’s Totally Awesome Plan for Romance”—a list of sure-fire ways to make her mom and Scott fall madly in love again. But while working on a photo album guaranteed to make Mom change her mind and rush them right back home, Sunny discovers a photo—one that changes everything.
Sunny’s family, the people she thought she could trust most in the world, have been keeping an enormous secret from her. And she’ll have to reconcile her family’s past and present, or she’ll lose everything about their future.
The protagonist, Sunny, is a spunky, imaginative girl just starting sixth grade. As if middle school wasn’t hard enough, Sunny has to deal with the fact that her family, in her eyes, is falling apart. With all of the antics involved in her Totally Awesome Plan to reunite her parents, like setting her mom up for a surprise makeover and photo shoot so she can send nice pictures back to her dad, I imagined this story would be playful. It wasn’t quite the laugh-inducing light read I was hoping for, but it definitely had some highlights.
Call Me Sunflower delves into some seriously unique ground for a middle grade novel! Sunny is a bold and independent thinker, which not only leads to the infamous Awesome Plan, but also means she chooses to engage with things that matter to her, even if it means going against the grain. She joins the Odyssey of the Mind team and explores animal rights activism. One of her Odyssey of the Mind teammates is a conscientious young vegan. I had never fathomed reading a book with Odyssey of the Mind in it, let alone sixth grade social activists on top, and I love how Sunny and her friends set an example of creativity, critical thinking, and conscious life choices being valuable things for young people to pursue.
The secret behind Sunny’s family situation caught me completely by surprise, and it’s safe to say I would never, ever have guessed it. It’s a bit of a shocker, but after the dramatic reveal, Franklin handles the unusual family arrangement with grace and lets Sunny process it and come to understand that her family is wonderful, no matter what shape it takes.
The book did stumble into a few genre tropes: there was a dash of the pretty, popular mean girl set up against the foil of unpopular “weird” kids who were all much smarter, more interesting, and more redeemable than the “normal” kids. I also had a pet peeve with the adult characters: every adult who wasn’t a teacher had the profession of “store owner.” Book store owner, health foods store owner, clothing store owner, etc. Some of the stores were related to the plot, which is fine, but how many store owners do you know? The type of store was also used to stereotype or define the adult or family attached to it.
Call Me Sunflower is as creative as its protagonist, and carries a lot of good messages for kids in the target audience. It doesn’t have a ton to offer for older readers, but would be a great book to get for a young and independent reader in your life!
All in All…
- 3/5 sea stars
- Published May 9th, 2017, by Skyhorse Publishing
- 256 pages
- For fans of plucky child characters, Junie B. Jones, Odyssey of the Mind, activism
I received this book free through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.