Title: Sunnyside Plaza
Author: Scott Simon
Genre: Juvenile Realistic Fiction
Number of Pages: 208
Don’t let the cheery title and the cartoonish cover art fool you- this book is absolutely heart-wrenching at times. It contains a full spectrum of emotions and the main character’s unique voice will stay with you for a long time. Sally Miyake is a young woman with learning difficulties who lives in a full-time residential center for adults with intellectual disabilities. Many of the people who live there are pretty low-functioning and were left there by their parents as small children.
Even though it might not seem like much of a life to some people, Sally is a happy human being who enjoys helping prepare meals, going on field trips, and hanging out with her friends. Her repetitive but peaceful life is suddenly interrupted when some of the disabled people in the home begin dying mysteriously. They seem to be having fatal strokes but there’s no apparent reason why, and multiple patients die the same way. When Sally’s best friend has a close call she becomes determined to figure out what’s happening, but how can a woman who can’t read, write, or hold a job solve a crime that even has the police stumped?
Sally definitely seemed higher functioning than most of the people she lived with, and sometimes I got the feeling that she was more likely to be on the autism spectrum than mentally disabled. This book told a powerful story that wasn’t like anything I’d ever read before, but sometimes it was way too sentimental (a common pitfall with stories that focus on handicapped characters.) There was also too much touchy feely religious stuff at times, I’m an agnostic and I thought the author focused too much on a Christian message at different points throughout the story.
No offense to other people’s beliefs, but that just wasn’t my cup of tea. That said, I think the book did a fantastic job at portraying the worthiness of people’s lives regardless or not of whether society deems them ‘useful.’ It portrays how cruel people can be to people with disabilities (even when they don’t feel like they’re doing anything wrong) and how Sally becomes increasingly aware of people’s negative attitudes while still trying to do right by the people around her. Even though this novel is marketed to middle graders, I think anybody could get something out of it regardless of age.
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