Title: The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James
Author: Ashley Herring Blake
Publication Date: March 26, 2019
Age Range: Middle Grade
Genre(s): Contemporary, LGBTQI+
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Twelve-year-old Sunny St. James navigates heart surgery, reconnections with a lost mother, first kisses, and emerging feelings for another girl.
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.
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Ashley Herring Blake’s work and was so upset I didn’t get to this one last year. That being said, this book was definitely worth the wait. Blake has a real talent for believable stories about teens that allow for fantastic discussions about sexuality, family hardships, growing up.
I haven’t read Blake’s earlier books, but I really want to after falling in love with her latest three novels. I really enjoy how Blake’s middle-grade novels tackle so many relatable issues for kids, while also tackling growing up and what that means.
Sunny St. James focuses on Sunny who after having a heart transplant meets her biological mom for the first time and tackles the struggle of having her mom reenter her life. I really enjoyed the internal struggle Sunny had with wanting to talk to her mom over Kate, her adoptive mom. I thought that nuance was handled (and resolved) really well.
I also thought Sunny discussing and coming to terms with her sexuality was handled so well. Sunny had a falling out with her former best friend and is hyper-focused on getting her first kiss, specifically with a boy. After meeting Quinn and having a lot of this self-discovery happen through confusions about what her feeling towards Quinn are was explored so well. I really liked how Sunny questions little thoughts and moments and despite agonizing over little questions, does end up asking the adults in her life for help.
The truth as to what happened at the sleepover and why Sunny is no longer friends with her former best friend was also handled really well. I liked how this book shows that you can cut out toxic people from your life, regardless of how close you once were. Specifically, it highlights that there are some lines that real friends wouldn’t cross.
This book is another heartwarming, yet powerful coming of age story that tackles some series subjects. Sunny deals with meeting her biological mom, learning her mom was struggling with alcoholism, and learning that her mom’s recovery was due to more than just a desire to meet her daughter. Along with this, Sunny is starting on this second chance at life, making some goals about things she wants to do, and becoming to accept her sexuality and fully understand what that means. Like Blake’s other books, I highly recommend this one for all ages, especially readers in their early teens. Also with Blake’s other books, this is a great book to inspire discussions and conversations that may not come up organically, and also give young readers a safe way to explore these difficult topics.