Hello, Sunshine by Leila Howland
Disney-Hyperion, 2017, 368 pages
I received this eBook from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Hello, Sunshine will be available for purchase July 11, 2017.
In Leila Howland’s Hello, Sunshine, Becca Harrington has been rejected from every college she’s applied to. With dreams of becoming a star, she packs her things and makes a cross-country roadtrip from Boston to LA with her boyfriend, Alex, who has plans to attend Stanford. Things come crashing down when Alex breaks up with her at the end of their trip, leaving Becca feeling like an utter failure. Despite plans to live with her cousin, Becca finds an apartment of her own where she meets a new friend, Marisol, and a cute aspiring director, Raj. With a list of goals in hand (including finding an agent and getting paid acting work all while working a bummer job as a waitress), Becca sets out into the shiny world that is Los Angeles while learning to get out of her own way.
As a first-person narrator, Becca is hyper-everything. Much like the overexposed picture that makes up the cover to Hello, Sunshine, the narration style is fast and bright, as if living inside the head of an extravert (which Becca clearly is). While Becca uses a lot of words to tell her story, particularly toward the beginning, she doesn’t say a whole lot. In addition to a selection of sentence structure and vocabulary that makes Becca seem as if she’s talking a million miles a minute, the plot structure, too, moves at a rapid pace. While so many events happen to bring Becca to the end of this chapter in her life, Howland might have done better to focus on fewer things and committed to fewer false starts in Becca’s attempts at an acting career. While this may be an accurate representation of trying to get famous, it doesn’t work well for a narrative.
The choice of present-tense adds tension to the story — will Becca “make it” in Hollywood, or will she not? — but doesn’t leave Becca much time for reflection, which she sorely needs. As a character flaw, this is slightly resolved later on, but not convincingly. Meanwhile, Howland uses f-bombs and other profanity relatively liberally. This isn’t a problem in and of itself, but doesn’t suit the reading level, prose style, or the book’s personality (or, frankly, Becca’s personality). Obviously not a piece of literary fiction, Hello, Sunshine’s writing style revolves around immaturity and a lack of sophistication. This does quite a bit to characterize Becca, but doesn’t make her particularly interesting and doesn’t serve to show the author’s skill, nor does it do the book as a whole many favors.
All said, Becca’s narration, though fast (and, wow, the last quarter of the book or so is like whiplash in terms of events), is matter-of-fact and not totally unlike eighteen-year-olds I’ve known.
Howland does bring the book to life with some interesting characters. Though she’s never mentioned, real-life Kesha seems a natural model for Marisol. Marisol’s background is far more interesting than any other character’s, Becca’s included. With an unexpected twist toward the end regarding Marisol which sends Becca running back to her cousin, Marisol’s personal story may be a little trite, but her characterization is the strongest. Meanwhile, the ever-present “juice man” has a predictable role toward the end of the novel. Main players in the book, Becca, Raj, Marisol, and even Becca’s mom and cousin, all are fairly well-developed. Even more-secondary characters, like Reed, are the stars of their own lives. Perhaps the one flaw in Howland’s character description is Becca noting Raj’s “coffee-colored skin,” which is borderline, if not straight-out problematic (I’ll leave that up to PoC to decide).
A fair amount of themes and symbolism seem present in the book, although I approached this as a leisure read and didn’t over-analyze things. One point that did come to my attention was Becca’s near-constant talk about stomach problems early on. It was so frequent it seemed like this would later become a plot point, like some kind of diagnosis that would interfere with her goals. Alas, it never returned and was just a case of some heavy-handed show-don’t-tell as readers learn that Becca is upset with her new single status. Hello, Sunshine is also solidly grounded in the modern world with mentions of Instagram and Ikea floating about. Whether or not this is included to color Becca’s world or provide fodder for symbolism (Ikea comes up multiple times as part of a running bit of wisdom; personally, I find mentions of specific establishments that exist in reality to be distracting and unnecessarily dates the book, but I feel similarly about made-up institutions meant to stand in for something well-known, like an author referring to a fast food restaurant as Burger Prince, but I digress), it makes the novel a touch more relevant for the right here, right now.
I suspect fans of Morgan Matson’s Since You’ve Been Gone will enjoy Hello, Sunshine. Not only is the cover art strikingly similar, but the overall feel of the stories are about the same. Hello, Sunshine isn’t a literary masterpiece, but works as a palate cleanser or a quick weekend read. For two-and-a-half hearts, what you see is what you get.
❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤