Sunshine is written by Robin McKinley. It was published in 2003 by Speak/Penguin. McKinley’s website can be found here.
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Young Adult
“It was a dumb thing to do but it wasn’t that dumb. There hadn’t been any trouble at the lake in years. And it was so exquisitely far from the rest of Sunshine’s life; she just needed to be alone with her thoughts for a little while. But then the vampires found her. Now, chained and imprisoned in a tumbledown mansion, alone but for the vampire shackled next to her, Sunshine must call on skills she didn’t know she had if she is to survive. But her fellow prisoner is not what she expected of a vampire, and soon Sunshine discovers that not only does she need his help, he needs hers…”
“Speak,” he said at last. “Remind me that you are a rational creature.” The words had long pauses between them, as if he found it difficult to speak, or as if he had to recall the words one at a time, and his voice was rough, as if some time recently he had damaged it by prolonged shouting. Perhaps he found it awkward to speak to his dinner. If he wasn’t careful he’d go off me, like Alice after she’d been introduced to the pudding. I should be so lucky.
I flinched at the first sound of his voice, both because he had spoken at all, and also because his voice sounded as alien as the rest of him looked, as if the chest that produced it was made out of some strange material that did not reflect sound the same way that ordinary—that is to say, live—flesh did. His voice sounded much odder—eerier, direr—than the voices of the vampires who had brought me here. You could half-imagine that Bo’s gang had once been human. You couldn’t imagine that this one ever had.”
“Pat sighed again, this one a very long sigh, like a man about to step off a cliff. Then he shut his eyes, took a deep breath, and held it. And held it. And held it. After about a minute he began to turn, well, blue, but I don’t mean human-holding-his-breath blue, I mean blue. Still holding his breath, he opened his eyes and looked at me: his eyes were blue, too, although several degrees darker than his skin, and I mean all of his eyes: the whites as well. Although speaking of all of his eyes, as I watched, a third eye slowly blinked itself open form between his eyebrows. He was still holding his breath. His ears were becoming pointed. He held up one hand and spread the fingers. There were six of them. The knuckles were all very knobbly, and the hand itself was very large. Pat was normally no more than medium-sized.”
Warnings: This book is almost YA. Pages 248-250 (in my 2010 edition) completely blow that out of the water with swearing and an extremely graphic almost-sex scene. Then it returns to YA material.
Recommended Age Range: 16+, hesitantly, due to the three pages mentioned above.
What I Liked:
I normally avoid paranormal YA because I usually don’t like reading about things like werewolves/vampires/angels/demons or whatever. It just doesn’t interest me. Also, I think my experience of Twilight turned me off of paranormal. I don’t like Twilight, and not just because Stephanie Meyer’s vampires sparkle (and yes, I have read all four books); it’s essentially emotional porn for tweens and there are a host of other things that I have problems with, so I think that (unfairly) tainted my perception of paranormal YA.
This book, though. This is the vampire novel that Twilight wishes it was. This is also the vampire novel that, unfortunately, nobody knows about. This book deserves more attention because it is really very good.
Con is great. He’s described as Byronic but I didn’t really see that. He and Sunshine have this really cute, awkward conversation at the end of the book that is…well, really cute and sweet.
McKinley loves strong female leads and Sunshine is no exception. She can kill vampires with her bare hands because she has a magical affinity for sunlight. She can also bake amazing cinnamon rolls and desserts like Killer Zebras and Bitter Chocolate Death and Manguamania and Sunshine’s Eschatology.
McKinley has some major world building in this novel and Sunshine is a fountain of knowledge, throwing out random bits of information about the world and its laws throughout the book. It’s an involved world that is so similar and yet so alien to our own.
Some of the great things that McKinley deals with in this book are darkness versus evilness and Sunshine’s inner struggle with similar issues. There’s a lot going on in this book that can be discussed after reading it.
What I Didn’t Like:
I don’t like ambiguous/unresolved endings, and this book leaves so much unresolved. Here is where a sequel would be perfect, but, unfortunately, McKinley is pretty adamant that there will be none. It’s really sad because the ending leaves you with a feeling of incompleteness and a question of “What about this?” What’s the deal with Mel? Is Sunshine a bad magic cross or not? What about her father? The book was great, but the ending was not.
Sunshine goes off on random tangents and asides frequently. She starts off with a ten-page info dump on her family and her life in general before mentioning her kidnapping by vampires. She then exposits on vampires for a few pages before returning to her capture. It’s like, “I drove to work and the charms my mom gave me were banging away in the dashboard. By the way, there are multiple charms for different objects and purposes and you can make them out of etc. etc. etc.” It’s rambling and it can be hard to get into the novel because of all the information that is thrown at you. You notice it less as you go along, but it definitely makes the book drag in a few places.
Why the heck is this book marketed for young adults with that really explicit section in the middle? Sure, it’s only three pages, but it is a really graphic three pages.
Sunshine is a fantastic vampire novel that does not get the attention or have the audience it deserves. There is an iffy bit in the middle that contains a graphic almost-sex scene which is more adult than young adult, but the rest of it, besides the unresolved ending and the at-times slow, rambling narrative, is pretty darn good.
Coming Up Next: Ashen Winter by Mike Mullin