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Sunny tries to shine despite his troubled past in this third novel in the critically acclaimed Track series from National Book Award finalist Jason Reynolds.
Ghost. Patina. Sunny. Lu. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds, with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics. They all have a lot of lose, but they all have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves. Sunny is the main character in this novel, the third of four books in Jason Reynold’s electrifying middle grade series.
Sunny is just that—sunny. Always ready with a goofy smile and something nice to say, Sunny is the chillest dude on the Defenders team. But Sunny’s life hasn’t always been sun beamy-bright. You see, Sunny is a murderer. Or at least he thinks of himself that way. His mother died giving birth to him, and based on how Sunny’s dad treats him—ignoring him, making Sunny call him Darryl, never “Dad”—it’s no wonder Sunny thinks he’s to blame. It seems the only thing Sunny can do right in his dad’s eyes is win first place ribbons running the mile, just like his mom did. But Sunny doesn’t like running, never has. So he stops. Right in the middle of a race.
With his relationship with his dad now worse than ever, the last thing Sunny wants to do is leave the other newbies—his only friends—behind. But you can’t be on a track team and not run. So Coach asks Sunny what he wants to do. Sunny’s answer? Dance. Yes, dance. But you also can’t be on a track team and dance. Then, in a stroke of genius only Jason Reynolds can conceive, Sunny discovers a track event that encompasses the hard hits of hip-hop, the precision of ballet, and the showmanship of dance as a whole: the discus throw. As Sunny practices the discus, learning when to let go at just the right time, he’ll let go of everything that’s been eating him up inside, perhaps just in time.
About the Author
Jason Reynolds is a New York Times bestselling author, a Newbery Award Honoree, a Printz Award Honoree, National Book Award Honoree, a Kirkus Award winner, a two time Walter Dean Myers Award winner, an NAACP Image Award Winner, and the recipient of multiple Coretta Scott King honors. The American Booksellers Association’s 2017 spokesperson for Indies First, his many books include When I Was the Greatest, Boy in the Black Suit, All American Boys (cowritten with Brendan Kiely), As Brave as You, For Every One, the Track series (Ghost, Patina, Sunny, and Lu), and Long Way Down, which received both a Newbery Honor and a Printz Honor. He lives in Washington, DC. You can find his ramblings at JasonWritesBooks.com.
Sunny Lancaster is a home-schooled almost-13-year-old torn between duty to run and passion for dance in the latest compulsively readable installment of Reynolds' lauded Track series. On the surface, African-American Sunny appears to have a wealthy, comfortable life that his less-fortunate teammates on the Defenders cannot help but envy. Privilege, however, cannot hide pain, and Sunny feels smothered by guilt over his mother's death immediately after his birth and crushed beneath the weight of his father's expectations for him to become the marathon runner that his beloved mother no longer can be. Once again, Reynolds cements his reputation as a distinguished chronicler of the adolescent condition by presenting readers with a winsome-yet-complex character whose voice feels as fresh as it is distinctive, spontaneously breaking out into onomatopoeic riffs that underscore his sense of music and rhythm. Living in an empty house with colorless walls and unfulfilled familial expectations cannot dim the effervescent nature of a protagonist who names his diary to make it feel more personal, employs charts and graphs to help him find the bravery to forge his own path as a discus-throwing dancer, and finds artistic inspiration in the musical West Side Story. Defenders introduced in earlier novels receive scant treatment, but new characters, such as Sunny's blue-haired teacher/dance instructor, Aurelia, are vibrant and three-dimensional. Main characters' races are not explicitly mentioned, implying a black default. Another literary pacesetter that will leave Reynolds' readers wanting more. (Fiction. 10-14)
— Kirkus STARRED REVIEW
Sunny is one of the best runners you have ever seen. But the problem, see, is that he doesn’t want to run. His mother was a runner, and after she died giving birth to him, his father Darryl decided that Sunny would run to carry on the legacy. But if you carry anything long enough, you begin to stagger under its weight. What Sunny really wants to do is dance. He and his home-school teacher—a colored-haired, tattooed woman named Aurelia—dance for the cancer ward patrons at a local hospital. Coach even lets him quit running and starts giving him one-on-one discus lessons, which feels a lot like dancing. But Darryl thinks Sunny is betraying his mother’s memory. Reynolds again uses his entrancing grasp of voice to pull readers into the heartbreaking world of the Track series. Sunny’s voice is deliberately more scattered and onomatopoetic than the series’ prior narrators, and there’s a musicality to the text, with words like “tickboom” and “hunger-growl.“ As with Ghost (2016)and Patina (2017), this book functions equally well as a standalone—in this case, a boy with rhythm flowing deeply through his bones—while also continuing to deepen the world of this inner-city middle-school track team. This series continues to provide beautiful opportunities for discussion about viewpoint, privilege, loss, diversity of experience, and exactly how much we don’t know about those around us. — Becca Worthington
— Booklist *STARRED REVIEW*
Sunny is deeply dissatisfied with his performance on the Defenders track team. He always wins, nobody cares much about the mile race until its closing seconds, and besides, he’d rather dance. Aurelia, the dear friend of Sunny’s deceased mother, recognizes this as she homeschools him, and she knows how rhythm, rhyme, grief, and misplaced guilt (his mother died giving birth to him) fill his mind and spill out in his movements. Darryl, Sunny’s father, doesn’t get it, though, and he’s completely thrown off when Sunny just stops in the middle of a race—to let someone else win for a change and to send out a cri de coeur. Coach then suggests he take a break from the mile and try discus throw, a field event whose graceful, disciplined spin and release might better suit Sunny. Book Three of Reynolds’ Track series, with its focus on individual players and their personal struggles, does not disappoint. Fans will settle easily into the balance between field action, teammate interrelationships, Coach’s understated but effective methodology, and the open-ended conclusion underscoring the message that win/loss is less important in these players’ lives than camaraderie and family reconciliation.
As in Reynolds’s two previous novels in the Track series (Ghost, rev. 11/16; Patina, rev. 11/17), sports aren’t really the point here—certainly not for Sunny, the team’s best miler, who decides, just as he’s about to win a race, that he doesn’t want to be a runner and, in fact, never did. Coach’s subsequent suggestion that he take up the discus instead is cannily reflected in the novel’s structure, a series of diary entries that each spin around another incident or memory, cumulatively revealing the tragic origins of Sunny’s track career. The incantatory leanings of the prose sometimes tend toward repetitiveness, but the slow build of the story allows Sunny’s strengths and vulnerabilities to gain him a place in our hearts. When he finally throws the discus in competition—on the last page, no less—we are completely with him.
— Horn Book Magazine