My 9-year-old daughter brought home a library book recently that caught my attention. Written by siblings Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, “Sunny Side Up” is a graphic novel for 8-13 year-old children that subtly and effectively addresses the family issue of addiction.
It’s set during a long hot August in the mid-1970’s, when 10-year-old Sunny Lewin is sent by her parents to spend part of her summer in West Palm Beach, Florida with her grandfather. Sunny is thrilled to make the trip from Pennsylvania to the Sunshine State, and she’s anticipating sun, sand, the ocean and perhaps a few theme park trips. Instead, she finds herself in the markedly low-key stoic Pine Palms retirement community without the company of any other children. All-you-can-eat-early-bird-buffets and trips to the grocery store are about the closest she gets to adventurous outings.
Things turn a bit for Sunny when she meets Buzz, an energetic young boy who using money they got finding lost cats and golf balls, introduces her to a cast of comic book characters and superheroes that help take her mind off what’s going on back at home. Young readers find out as the story progresses that Sunny was shipped off to Florida so that her parents could deal with her older brother Dale, who is struggling with a serious drug and alcohol problem.
The well-illustrated and expertly written story highlights the heartbreak young people experience when a sibling is struggling with a substance use disorder – their helplessness, their attempts to make sense of what is happening, and their guilt. In “Sunny Side Up,” however, the difficult themes of addiction, violence and family chaos are balanced by Sunny’s loving relationships with her grandfather (who also struggles with smoking), Buzz and the self-awareness she’s gained via some quiet time and a few superheroes.
A well-placed note from the authors at the end of the book encourages readers to reach out to family members, teachers, and counselors if they find themselves dealing with someone who is struggling with substance use.
I found this book by accident when my daughter brought it home (“because other kids seemed to like it”), but it should be on the shelves of every middle school and community organization that serves young people. It’s a great drug education resource that gives kids age-appropriate information in an accessible manner. If you’d like a copy of “Sunny Side Up” for yourself, for a young person in your life or to donate to a worthwhile organization, please use this Amazon link as it’s on sale for less than $8.00: Buy Sunny Side Up
And if you are so inclined, send some copies to Family and Children’s Association and we will give them to young people in a our family support groups.
Here’s the address:
Family and Children’s Association
100 East Old Country Road
Mineola, NY 11501