By Robin McKinley
You know those Eat This, Not That books? This is a Read This, Not That book review. During the height of the Twilight craze, whenever I saw someone reading or talking about the Twilight books, I wanted to grab them and shout, “Go read Sunshine!”
It is definitively the best spunky-young-heroine-and-vampire novel I’ve yet read, and that is saying a lot considering both how saturated that market is and how many of them I’ve read. McKinley has a long history of writing strong female leads (The Blue Sword was one of my favorites growing up), but lately she’s been sort of dicking around with dragons and pegasus, when she must know perfectly well that her fans all want a sequel to Sunshine.
The heroine, nicknamed “Sunshine,” is just out of high school and working as a baker in her family’s cafe (there are lots of extraneous but delightful descriptions of pastries) in a post-magic-war world where various magical creatures are an acknowledged reality but avoided if possible. The world-building is solid and interesting, and the action begins fairly quickly when she gets randomly kidnapped by a gang of vampires.
Avoiding spoilers, but attempting to describe what makes this book so much better than the Twilight series, especially for teen female readers: Sunshine acts almost entirely on her own recognizance at all times, relying on her own intelligence and summoning up unexpected personal strengths when the situations call for it. The particular vampire she aligns with is both frightening and intelligent, and their alliance is born out of need and not romantic in any sense (at least not right off the bat).
Sunshine actually takes three-dimensional characters, puts them in fraught situations, and then fleshes out how that changes and matures them. It is seriously the anti-Twilight, and everyone should read it (although perhaps not young kids, because it does have sex and violence).
Such an awesome, awesome book. It is also the only such book that I can think of that makes a serious attempt to acknowledge the problems inherent in a partnership between a predator and a member of their standard prey.
Do you think Skyler is too young to read it? She’s 11…going on 41.
I do think Skyler is a bit too young for it, mostly because they do a really good job of explaining why vampires are something for humans to be very afraid of. Although, now I’m totally going to wrack my brains to think of a vampire book appropriate for a precocious 11-year-old. I’d give it just a few years, though, before she’ll be fine with Sunshine.
I forgot to say in my previous comment, though, that I think some of Robin McKinley’s other books would be fine. The Blue Sword would definitely be okay, and she’s also got a really nice retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story called Beauty that I think is appropriate, though it has been a long time since I’ve read it. What do you guys think, Rebecca and Kinsey?
I would absolutely recommend any book by Patricia C. Wrede, though; especially the dragon series (Dealing with Dragons, Talking to Dragons, etc.). They are just super fun and silly, dealing with twisting traditional fairy tale tropes, and the content would even be appropriate for Sydney, though it would have to be read to her, I think.
LOVE Sunshine! Need to work it into my reread queue. It’s been too long! (I think you and I talked about it during one or more of our Pilates sessions, right, Anna?)
Lori, I’ll jump in and agree with Anna that you ought to wait a few years before letting Skyler read it. Sunshine is (I think) McKinley’s single novel that’s considered an adult novel rather than YA. It’s actually rather dark.
I also agree that Beauty would be good for Skyler. McKinley did a second retelling of Beauty and the Beast called Rose Daughter that I think would be OK, too, but it is somewhat more mature than Beauty.
I hadn’t thought of it as her one adult novel, since I do tend to think of Robin McKinley as a YA author, but I definitely think you’re right on that. There are much more adult situations in this novel. Sunshine just deals with them in much more healthy and responsible ways than Bella, so it is sad that Twilight is somewhat more youth-oriented.