Sunshine: A Graphic Novel

Sunshine: A Graphic Novel
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Release Date
April 18, 2023
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The extraordinary -- and extraordinarily powerful -- follow-up to Hey, Kiddo.
When Jarrett J. Krosoczka was in high school, he was part of a program that sent students to be counselors at a camp for seriously ill kids and their families. Going into it, Jarrett was worried: Wouldn't it be depressing, to be around kids facing such a serious struggle? Wouldn't it be grim?

But instead of the shadow of death, Jarrett found something else at Camp Sunshine: the hope and determination that gets people through the most troubled of times. Not only was he subject to some of the usual rituals that come with being a camp counselor (wilderness challenges, spooky campfire stories, an extremely stinky mascot costume), but he also got a chance to meet some extraordinary kids facing extraordinary circumstances. He learned about the captivity of illness, for sure but he also learned about the freedom a safe space can bring.

Now, in his follow-up to the National Book Award finalist Hey, Kiddo, Jarrett brings readers back to Camp Sunshine so we can meet the campers and fellow counselors who changed the course of his life.

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Learning Value
In Hey, Kiddo, we learned a lot of about Krosoczka's early life, and his family's struggles with all manner of issues. This graphic novel style memoir picks up the thread as he is in high school and given the opportunity to spend a week working at a camp for children with cancer and their families. It's a sleep away camp, and he travels with several classmates and teachers to work there, even though his grandparents think that it might be a depressing experience. It's certainly not easy to see children battling this illness, but the camp is a chance for them to have ordinary experiences and not necessarily be defined by their disease. Jarrett is assigned to work with Diego, who has brain cancer and is wheelchair bound. He is not very communicative, and it takes some effort to get him involved in camp activities. There are typical camp experiences, like dining hall meals, campfire stories, lake swimming, and a mascot costume (which can, in fact, be stinky if not cared for properly!) as well as issues involving medical care of fragile children. Jarrett takes comfort in how close many of the families are, and bonds with a young boy named Eric. The week isn't sad, but rather hopeful and life affirming, and Jarrett keeps in contact with several of the families, as well as his fellow counselors. An author's note at the end explains how much this camp meant to Krosoczka, and how working there (and later at Newman's Hole in the Wall camp) affected his life.
Good Points
While Krosoczka's Hey Kiddo was a bit grim, this book shows the resiliency that he acquired from having to live a difficult life with a mother suffering through addiction and grandparents who had problems of their own. For readers who are themselves going through difficult things, this is an excellent representation of someone who managed not only to survive bad time, but to thrive and to try to help others. There is a good balance in this story between information about the camp and the children attending it, and Jarrett's own personal emotional journey. The other counselors and the teachers are sympathetically portrayed, but also have their foibles on display (e.g. one of the teachers smokes) in endearing ways. There are some hijinks, but also some serious issues, and we find out just enough about life after camp. I wonder if we will see a graphic memoir of Krosoczka's entry into the world of publishing?

Since I was reading an advanced readers copy, I'm not entirely sure what the color palette will be; the few pages in color are a muted gray with touches of soft orange, but I wonder if this changes when everyone arrives at the camp. The cover certainly has more green, mirroring the outdoor environment.

This is a great choice for fans of the first memoir who want to see what this author did later in life, as well as readers who like more contemplative graphic memoirs like Harper's Bad Sister, Bermudez's Big Apple Diaries, Russo's Why Is Everybody Yelling? Growing Up in My Immigrant Family or Page's Button Pusher. People of a certain generation will remember Norma Klein's Sunshine, which was about a young mother dying of cancer, so the title already had that connotation for me!
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