The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James by Ashley Herring Blake
Twelve-year-old Sunny St. James navigates heart surgery, reconnections with a lost mother, first kisses, and emerging feelings for another girl in this stunning, heartfelt novel–perfect for fans of Ali Benjamin and Erin Entrada Kelly.
When Sunny St. James receives a new heart, she decides to set off on a “New Life Plan”: 1) do awesome amazing things she could never do before; 2) find a new best friend; and 3) kiss a boy for the first time.
Her “New Life Plan” seems to be racing forward, but when she meets her new best friend Quinn, Sunny questions whether she really wants to kiss a boy at all. When the reemergence of her mother, Sunny begins a journey to becoming the new Sunny St. James.
This sweet, tender novel dares readers to find the might in their own hearts.
This is the first book I’ve read by Ashley Herring Blake and it will not be my last. I can in no way describe how much I loved this.
Sunny St. James lived with her mom’s friend, Kate. Sunny’s mom, Lena, left her with Kate when she was four and she hasn’t seen her in eight years. Kate is amazing though and loves Sunny so much. I loved this relationship. Kate finally spoke to Lena because Sunny was having a heart transplant. The book starts with a bit of her story, but mostly her fears and thoughts about dying or living with someone else’s heart. After she got sick, she lost her best friend and wasn’t able to go to school. While she loved Kate, Sunny made a goal to get a new best friend and to also kiss a boy.
Shortly after healing from surgery, Sunny went back into the ocean she loves. When she opened her eyes, there was a girl with blue hair underwater by her. This is how she met Quinn. Quinn’s mom does underwater photography and is there for the summer to take dolphin photos. There is an almost instant connection between the girls and they agree right then to be best friends. Sunny doesn’t tell her about her heart transplant, but does tell her how she is ready to kiss boys. She also doesn’t tell Quinn that she had thoughts of kissing girls, too. But that was the old Sunny and she was determined to change so she isn’t laughed at by the other kids.
During this time, Lena shows back up and wants to see Sunny. Things start slow. Lena was a musician until she had Sunny. Sunny’s dad died in a motorcycle accident before she was born. Lena left Sunny behind because she was an alcoholic and couldn’t cope. She was also still really upset over losing the man she had loved since she was young. Sunny is afraid to get close to Lena because she may leave again. But she agrees to see her and Lena decides to teach her how to surf. Things start to go really well and Sunny opens up to Lena about certain things.
What I loved most about this book is how clearly it dealt with Sunny’s battle to figure out who she was attracted to. It was easier to like boys. And she did like them. But thoughts of girls kept creeping back in. Especially thoughts of Quinn. Sunny starts writing poems and leaves them all around in random places. It helps her get her feelings out. She is such a strong, caring, and fun girl and I loved reading about her. There was so much emotion throughout this book.
I have to say that having an lgbtqui+ positive book for middle grade is so important. Young kids need to know they are not alone in their feelings. I knew at a very young age that I liked boys. Probably around six. I also knew I was sexually attracted to them by middle school. So kids this age need to see that there are so many other things besides being straight because it’s expected of you. It’s time that parents also stop expecting their children to be who they want and instead encourage them into who they actually are.
I obviously have this 5 stars. Even though it’s middle grade, I think this book is perfect for any age.
There are some serious topics to mention. Alcoholism, death of a parent, and parental abandonment. Also, 11 and 12 year old girls being mean and laughing about the thoughts Sunny had about girls. I’m not sure how to warn about this one, but a parent who adopted a child might have some intense feelings about the birth mother showing back up out of nowhere.
Have you read this one yet? Anything else by Ashley? Are there other authors that you know that write lgbtq books for middle grade readers?