The Secret Sunshine Project is a fitting title for a book that fizzes with positivity. Benjamin Dean’s second middle grade novel is a gentle and understanding look at a family learning to live with loss. A story of kindness, courage and acceptance.
When we first meet Bea and her family they are living in London and are full of joy following a visit to London Pride. The vibrance of the celebration echoing in the happiness of Bea, her older sister Riley and their Mum and Dad. One year later as the school summer holiday approaches things are vastly different for them. The girls’ Dad died shortly after their joyful family day out and since then life has lacked colour and happiness.
Their changed circumstances mean Bea, Riley and Mum must leave their family home in London and spend the summer with the girls’ Grandma in the country. All Bea’s plans for the holidays are spoilt and Riley will miss Pride. Bea is determined to do something to cheer her sister up and with the help of her new friends in the village she sets about recreating the day that brought her sister such happiness. However there is one person who will put a stop to her plans at any price, the formidable local councillor Rita.
Grief is an emotion so overwhelming that to write a book for children centred on this subject could result in a difficult or distressing read but The Secret Sunshine Project is neither. The vibrant cover by Sandhya Prabhat and the rainbow sprayed page edges set the tone and Benjamin Dean highlights in his story the best that can be found in people. Bea and her family despite their loss are close and understanding of each other and the growing friendships in their new home convey the importance of acceptance, kindness and support. It is a reassuring and hopeful theme.
There are some great characters included in the plot and the bond between Bea and Riley has an authentic family feel to it. Grandma is fabulous and Norman would lift the most gloomy of people. There is sadness though and this is dealt with kindly and with quiet optimism. If you were inclined to attach labels to children’s fiction then some would describe this as a LGBTQ title but in reality it is a story about finding the light in what may be a dark place. A book I enjoyed and I know I am not the target audience but at the moment in particular perhaps a book that more adults should read to raise awareness and understanding of the role of children’s literature in supporting all.
I should like to thank Kirsten Grant and Simon and Schuster Children’s Books for my copy. The Secret Sunshine Project is published on 31st March and can be pre-ordered/purchased online at Bookshop.
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