Throughout June, GeekMom celebrates Pride Month with lots of LGBTQ content. Follow the Pride Month tag to find everything all in one space (including LGBTQ content from previous years) and keep checking back for more throughout the month. Today’s book review is The Secret Sunshine Project by Benjamin Dean.
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Trigger Warnings: death of a parent, grief
One of my favorite books of 2021 was Me, My Dad, and the End of the Rainbow by Benjamin Dean. While not a true sequel, The Secret Sunshine Project is set in the same universe almost exactly one year later and follows two sisters who attended the very same London pride featured in the first book.
Bea’s older sister Riley came out just over a year ago to much support from the whole family who quickly organized a trip to London Pride, an incredible family day out now tinged with sadness because only a few weeks later, the girls’ father died unexpectedly. Nearly a year later, the family’s finances have tightened enough that they are having to leave their family home in London behind and move in with their grandma for the summer in the small rural village of St Regent’s Vale. Riley is finding the move extremely difficult. She is feeling isolated and cut off, worse, she’s going to have to miss Pride – the one place she truly felt that she belonged. The St Regent’s Vale summer fete, run by the cruel and ruthless Rita Ruckus, is no substitute.
After meeting some local kids around her age, Bea comes up with a plan. If Riley can’t go to Pride this summer, then Bea will bring Pride to Riley, by organizing the very first St Regent’s Vale Pride celebration. However, actually pulling it off will be a challenge with Rita determined not to let anything overshadow her precious village fete and all but one of the local residents afraid to speak up. But Bea is more like her outspoken grandmother than she thinks and she is determined to bring the sunshine back to her sister’s life – even if it means taking on Rita head to head.
The Secret Sunshine Project is another almost aggressively uplifting book from Benjamin Dean and you will struggle not to smile while reading it. Bea is a vibrant main character who was a joy to read and her relationships with her family all felt believable and joyful. I identified strongly with her sister Riley who is clearly struggling with sadness bordering on depression, but my favorite character was probably Bea’s gran who is exactly the kind of belligerent old lady I one day aspire to become myself! The fact that the book is centered so strongly around a lost parent is worthy of a hefty trigger warning, but it never feels downbeat. Instead, we see a family growing back together after going through the worst thing they could imagine and see the ways that loss has strengthened them, even if they are struggling to see it themselves.
My one criticism, if you can call it that, of The Secret Sunshine Project is that I was expecting a dramatic final act that never seemed to emerge – something my husband also commented on. The story just somewhat petered out by the end. However, in many ways, this was actually a pleasant change from what I was expecting. I was also pleasantly surprised by the lack of homophobia in this book. Given the very traditional nature of St Regent’s Vale and its generally older residents, I had expected the kids to come up against some old-fashioned attitudes but was pleased to see this wasn’t the case, even if it was perhaps a tad unrealistic. Bea (and Riley too) forming strong friendships and becoming a part of their Gran’s village in just a few weeks is all a little bit too picture-perfect, but sometimes you need a story that is just boldly positive, and that’s exactly what The Secret Sunshine Project provides.
The Secret Sunshine Project might be a middle-grade book, but if you’re looking for something to bring a smile to your face, especially if you too are struggling to piece yourself back together after a trauma of some kind, then I would recommend it to you no matter your age.
GeekMom received a copy of this title for review purposes.