The Haunting of Sunshine Girl
Paige McKenzie with Alyssa Sheinmel
I read this book, often excitedly and out loud, as my husband drove us from Las Vegas to Seattle in an unintentional imitation of the main character’s move from Austin to Ridgemont, Washington. I would finish a chapter, take a deep breath, and put the book down to recover. I spent the time in between chapters searching for a cell signal and eating unwise amounts of beef jerky trying to process what I just experienced.
Written with the kind of wry, sardonic wit you find in the better, more clever corners of Tumblr, Paige McKenzie and Alyssa Sheinmel pluck us out of our comfy reading chair and plop us right down next to Sunshine Griffith. The rain is splattering, the ghosts are thumping, and the feeling that time may be running short is overwhelming.
For those readers who have not had the pleasure of experiencing the Haunting of Sunshine Girl via her YouTube investigations, here’s a short recap, sans spoilers, to bring you up to speed on what nearly a quarter of a million subscribers already know. Sunshine and her mother, Kat, move into their new home in rainy Ridgemont. Almost immediately Sunshine begins hearing, seeing, and experiencing “creeptastic” phenomena, as Kat would say. The number of incidents increase but Kat’s skepticism remains steady. In an attempt to prove to her mom that there really is a ghost “living” in their home, Sunshine begins to take pictures and video, focusing primarily on her own room. At school she meets Nolan, a like-minded boy who helps her in her search for who– or what– is haunting her home. Together they uncover the truth about what is haunting Sunshine. More importantly, they discover why Sunshine’s in this predicament in the first place.
Sunshine Griffith is an intelligent main character with all the weaknesses, shortcomings, and naivete that make reading a coming of age story a personal affair. There are times she is admirably smarter than she ought to be, and times when I wanted to shake her by the shoulders to make her understand. All-in-all a typical sixteen year old girl. But what’s great about how this story is written is that you don’t need to know anything about the YouTube Sunshine to appreciate book Sunshine. While it is undeniably the same girl, book Sunshine holds her own and is complete and enjoyable with or without knowledge her online counterpart.
It is only fair to mention that the book does differ from the YouTube series in many ways. Devotees of the online saga may miss some characters and may resist the reshaping of others. I know how hard it is to deal with retconning an original story one has come to know and love, but I can honestly say that this revamping of the tale is executed well. I watched several dozen Sunshine videos after completing the book to compare the two styles of storytelling. I feel the book is a streamlined version of the story, organized in a cleaner, more digestible format. While it can be great fun to eagerly await a new installment of what’s creeping around Sunshine’s house, there is something more concise and satisfying about the flow of a good old-fashioned book.
It was also refreshing to see the nuances in Sunshine and Nolan’s relationship. Too often a female protagonist has to choose between living her life and having the boy; I don’t know what’s to come in the Sunshine series, but this first book builds a mutual and respectful framework for what their relationship may hold in the future.
This book had my imagination whirling! There were plenty of red herrings to keep me turning the page. My advanced copy is full of excited notes and theories scribbled in the margins. I think I cycled through thinking that each character was actually a ghost in a Sixth Sense kind of plot twist. I’m pleased to say I was (mostly) wrong.
Sunshine’s path to her destiny includes a lot of hallmarks of many other YA heroes. Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans will find Sunshine’s coming of age familiar, but not derivative. I think that the worst thing that I could say about this story is that it does follow the oft-traveled path of most YA fiction. Sunshine is the quintessential YA protagonist. She has a life which is normal for her, full of expectation that the next day will be similar to the last. And when a challenge arises to set into motion the next phase of her life, she worries she is unprepared. But with the help of those who come to care for her, she succeeds in overcoming her challenge.
While I feel the outline is a bit formulaic, it’s the details that save this story and make it unique and a worthy read. Even though I sometimes knew where the story was going, I still wanted it to take me there. As someone who resists reading a lot of YA fiction because of these pitfalls, I was genuinely taken up by The Haunting of Sunshine. It’s an excellent example of how to take a traditional story and make it modern and unique.
You can get yourself familiar with Sunshine’s story here on her YouTube channel.