Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry by Jennifer Ann Mann is the start of a new series featuring an older sister (5th grade) and a younger sister (1st grade), with an amped-up level of sibling rivarly. There are Beezus and Ramona references on the cover, and I can see the comparison, but I found Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry to be more over-the-top than Cleary's books. Fun, to be sure, but not the most realistic of realistic fiction.
Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry begins as older sister Masha (the first-person narrator) wakes up to find her head glued to the pillow, and a bunch of plastic flowers glued to her head/hair. Way up at the root, where they can't be cut out. She learns that her genius of a younger sister, Sunny, has invented a new, and basicallly impossible to unstick, glue. Needless to say, Masha is not happy. What follows are a series of escapades over the course of the day involving Masha and Sunny, their elderly Chinese neighbor, the local hospital, and Masha's problematic hair.
Things I liked about this book:
- Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry could actually work for a fairly broad age range. Masha is in 5th grade, but she's kind of a young fifth grader, and this book is accessible to 7 and 8 year olds. There are a few illustrations, perhaps one per chapter, but not so many as you would find in Clementine or the like. Masha does have social problems fitting in at school, too. This means that Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry is ok for younger kids, but should also work for 10 year old readers who want something light.
- Although there are modern touches, like cell phones, Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry has an old-fashioned feel, particularly in the relative freedom that Masha and Sunny experience throughout the day (though it's not that their mother intended this freedom). Sunny is a particularly competent (if annoying to her sister) six-year-old.
- Sunny and Masha live with their single mother, but any mentions of their dad indicate that he's an upstanding member of society, not some deadbeat. It's apparently not clear to Masha why her mother divorced her father, but I thought it was a realistic single-parent situation.
- Later in the book, Masha meets a number of hospitalized children, and becomes friends with one of them. The descriptions of the children's ailments are realistic, but not overly scary. It's nice to see disabled or sick children as regular kids.
I did, knowing a bit about hospitals, find some of the hospital dynamics a bit implausible. For instance, the hospital staff goes to quite a bit of trouble to try to remove the plastic flowers from Masha's head, when it's not really clear that there's any medical issue (let alone discussion of insurance or payment). Actually, this all added to the old-fashioned feel of the book for me. I can imagine a community hospital of years gone by working this way, perhaps... This didn't really take away from my enjoyment of the book, but it certainly contributed to my impression of it as over-the-top vs. strictly realistic fiction.
Anyway, I did like Masha. She's plausible as the put-upon older sibling of a child who is not normal (Sunny's over-sized IQ). Here's Masha's voice:
"Sunny had to go to school, and my mom had to go to work. She had some huge meeting that she was stressed about. She always had some huge meeting she was stressed about. you could never say this to her, though. If you did, she'd remind you about how she's got a lot on her plate, blah, blah, blah, and make you feel all guilty--like it was my big idea to divorce my dad and move to another state." (Page 24, ARC)
"An ER waiting room is such a weird place. All the people are quiet, as if they're in a library, but they aren't working or reading, they're just slumped in chairs. It's like some kind of misery library." (Page 47, ARC)
Masha is not popular. She's actually pretty much invisible at school. But she maintains a healthy sense of self. And Sunny... Sunny is an "evil genius", but she's also a six year old who cries if her sister hurts her feelings. She figures things out, and has reasons (even if they are unusual) for the things that she does. I look forward to seeing what she's going to come up with next. Book 2 is due out in May, and appears to take up immediately where Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry leaves off.
I think that Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry will be a welcome addition to the ranks of early chapter books, bridging the gap between Clementine and The Penderwicks. Masha and Sunny's adventures are funny, and they are both strong-willed and independent. Recommended in particular for elementary school libraries.
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's (@BWKids)
Publication Date: October 1, 2013
Source of Book: Advanced review copy from the publisher, picked up at KidLitCon
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