[Review] Because Of The Sun – by Jenny Torres Sanchez

This review was originally published in Latinxs In Kidlit. I am now cross-posting it on my blog.

 

Dani Falls has a complicated and fractured relationship with her mother, Ruby, who in her eyes is not good mother in any regard. In fact, for dozens of pages, Dani often explicitly stated that she hates her mother, hates her because she felt unappreciated, unloved, and ignored by her. By Dani’s account, we are led to believe that Ruby is objectively a selfish and neglectful mother. It is all Dani has known, and because she is the narrator, we are inclined to empathize with her side of the story. Dani believes she knows who her mother really is deep inside, that her ugliest aspects are the real her. But what Dani doesn’t know is that she really doesn’t know her mother at all. 

In the Author’s Note for Because Of The Sun, Jenny Torres Sanchez states that Albert Camus’s The Stranger inspired her novel. In The Stranger, Meursault’s mother dies early on in the story, and his emotionless and detached reaction made Torres Sanchez curious about his mother. Was she a terrible person or simply an imperfect individual like many of us are? 

Like Mersault’s mother, Dani’s mother also dies early in the novel, tragically. She is inexplicably attacked by a black bear in her own backyard. The grisly story shocks the neighborhood, but readers see the aftermath play out through Dani’s perspective, which is bleak, detached, and emotionless. The way Dani deals with the trauma of her mother’s death is fascinating, though often hard to read, and readers may wonder if Dani’s cold reaction is warranted. But people cope with tragedy differently, and we don’t know all the details of her and her mother’s relationship yet. So it’s best to read on without passing any judgment on Dani.

As she has no family left in Florida, Dani must move to New Mexico to live with an aunt, Shelly, she never knew existed. This is only one of many secrets Dani’s mother kept from her. For weeks, Dani lives with her aunt, but seldom leaves the house and rarely speaks more than two words at a time. This part of the novel is slow and contemplative, when Dani is at her lowest. Hours, days, and weeks blur into each other and become indistinguishable. The language and mood of the book during these pages are bleak and stifling. One wonders if Dani will ever find light in her life again.

But one day, Dani wanders out into the scorching New Mexico sun and walks for miles, until she comes across a gas station. There, she meets Paulo, a young Mexican-American boy who aspires to be a filmmaker. It is after she meets Paulo and his grandmother, Doña Marcela, that the potential for hope and light enters Dani’s life.

It is important to note that Dani is white, not Latina, a fact that is not explicitly stated until she meets Latinx people at her new school, who make references to her whiteness almost immediately. This happens about 1/3 of the way through the novel, after which Latinxs play a regular and important role in the story. It is Paulo and especially Doña Marcela, who provide moral and emotional support for Dani when she needs it most. Paulo is ambitious and kind; Doña Marcela is brave and loving. Together, they provide Dani with an example of what healthy familial relationships can look like, and show her that people are allowed to care for and love each other. That Latinx characters are the most positive influence on the novel’s protagonist is worth noting. I certainly appreciated it. 

Eventually, Dani connects with her aunt Shelly, who reveals the tragic secrets of her family’s past. Dani then realizes that she never really knew her mother and must face the fact that she hated a woman whom she only knew on a surface level. This understandably makes Dani resent Ruby even more, for shutting her daughter out all her life. But her budding romance with Paulo, the strong role model she found in Doña Marcela, and her growing bond with Shelly — these relationships teach Dani that there are things to appreciate in the world. Perhaps the trauma of her mother’s death and their lack of closure will always follow her, but Dani has met people who can help her move forward with her life, even if progress is slow.

Though it’s not without flaws, there’s much to like and commend in Because Of The Sun. Jenny Torres Sanchez writes Dani’s story in haunting, beautiful prose that creates an atmosphere that aptly approximates Dani’s bleakest moods and lowest moments. There are a few dreamlike sequences in the novel reminiscent of magical realism that stood out as the strongest parts of the story. But this is a YA Contemporary, so there is no magic or magical realism, just gorgeous and haunting dream sequences. Reading Because Of The Sun is a singular and somber experience that will resonate with teens who understand the complexities of love and loss.

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Because of the Sun


 

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48 thoughts on “[Review] Because Of The Sun – by Jenny Torres Sanchez

    1. The character’s name is Dani Falls, but I couldn’t assume she wasn’t Latina just because she didn’t have a traditionally Latinx last name. So I was wondering for dozens of pages if Dani was white or Latina, haha. x) Eventually it was confirmed she was white. No, there is no magical realism, just very cool dream sequences.

  1. Mother/daughter stories resonate with me so strongly that I have to be in the right mood for them, but I love your review of Because of the Sun. It sounds so powerful and it makes me think of just how well we know our own family and reconsider just how we see them.

  2. Beautiful review, Naz. This sounds like a powerful story about mothers and daughters. As I get older I am able to see my parents more and more as people and accept their shortcomings more easily. I can see how a tragic death would make that relationship all the more fraught.

  3. Great review, Naz! Also, yay congrats on reviewing over at Latinx in kidlit! 🙂
    I am drawn to portrayals of mother/daughter relationships, so might give this a shot. Glad you stated that Dani is white. Wondering for much of the novel really would have distracted me 😀 Also, so happy you added that people cope differently, I can’t stand that so often only extroverted grief is deemed authentic grief.

  4. What a beautiful review, Naz! I personally really enjoy books which explore mother daughter relationships. I don’t think there are enough of them. That said, this story explores that relationship in a very different way. Do you feel like Dani got closure in any way?

    1. Thank you, Jackie! I worked very hard to write this review, since it was going to go up on a different platform first. 🙂
      Yes, Dani definitely got closure by the end of the novel once she got to know her aunt better and she was able to learn more about her mother’s past.

  5. I wondered the exact same thing when I read The Stranger – I love that she explored this in her novel. Your reviews are becoming more and more stunning all the time! 🙂

  6. Thank you for putting this on my radar! I have seen it around but never read a review. Sometimes I get tired of the YA fantasy tropes and appreciate realistic YA… and this seems like it could hit the spot, exploring the intricacies of love and loss while growing up.

  7. This sounds like a lovely YA book. Mother-daughter relationships are so important, especially in YA. Though it sounds like Dani and her mother didn’t have the best relationship while she was alive, at least she gained a new perspective on her mother in her death. Maybe this will resonate with teens who often feel like their mothers are too harsh, too protective, too whatever. Until I became a parent myself I never really understood how much my parents loved me and the reasoning for why they did certain things.

    1. Unfortunatley, Dani’s memories of her mother while she was alive are not positive, but by the end of the book she gains a new perspective that helps her understand why her mother was neglectful and hid her feelings. This is a very serious book, but I think it will resonate with many teens.

  8. Wow, this sounds like a bleak but interesting read. I don’t know how I’d feel about learning the MC’s ethnicity so late in the book. I’m always struggling with how much authors should reveal about race/ethnicity. Saying it upfront isn’t necessarily realistic, and over-emphasizing racial differences could have unintended consequences. At the same time, though, it’s important to challenge readers’ assumptions (such as white as the norm) and for kids from diverse backgrounds to clearly see themselves in literature (even as an adult, I love seeing “myself” in literature, which so rarely happens). Anyway, I might end up reading this book to see how I respond to the way Jenny Torres Sanchez deals with this issue.

    1. It bugged me that Dani’s ethnicity wasn’t explicitly stated earlier, to be honest. The whole time I kept questioning whether Dani was Latina or not, and I had assumed that she was because the author is as well. I know I shouldn’t have assumed that because all authors should be free to write what they like, but I still wanted Dani to be Latina. x) But once I learned that she was white, I didn’t mind at all. I just needed it to be confirmed.

  9. I hate to be *that* commenter, but, ‘That Latinx characters are the most positive influence on the novel’s protagonist is worth nothing..’ – shouldn’t that be ‘noting’…? Or have I got the wrong idea entirely?

  10. I wonder if I’ll ever really know my mom. It sounds weird, but she’s TOO close, so I can’t step back and see the whole person, the one who has a terrible background, which causes her to do lots of things I don’t understand.

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