(Paige McKenzie, Alyssa Sheinmel, Weinstein Books 2015)
It is unusual to find a young adult story that deals with demonic possession. This one does.
Sunshine is a relatively normal teenager other than the fact that she was adopted as a baby and is very into vintage clothing and “old-fashioned” things. Shortly after her sixteenth birthday her life changes for the weird. Sunshine and her mom, Kat, move from sunny Texas to gloomy Washington state and Sunshine begins to notice strange things about their rented house. Footsteps. Repositioned objects. Childlike crying. A mysterious feeling of cold that only she feels. Yes, her house is haunted. But events take an even more serious turn when her mother grows increasingly distant and strange. Helped by her new friend, Nolan, Sunshine learns that she is not exactly human, and that it is up to her to save her mother’s spirit from demonic annihilation. If Sunshine fails this initial test of supernatural abilities, her mother is lost forever.
The Haunting of Sunshine Girl is fast-paced and highly readable: McKenzie does a nice job of building tension. Traditional haunted house trappings are balanced by that darker demonic element, and there is a good, slow-burn creep factor in seeing the mother’s personality subsumed by a demon.
Sunshine is a likeable, loner narrator and we sympathize with her mild teen angst. Will Nolan be a boyfriend or just a friend? Will she discover the identity of her birth parents? Will she embrace her supernatural heritage? The minimal side characters also hold enough interest to keep story moving. Nolan, for instance is on a quest of his own to validate his dead grandfather’s belief in the paranormal. Is he just using Sunshine? And what about the death-obsessed art teacher?
Sunshine’s mysterious mentor arrives at the end, heralding the recently-released sequel, The Awakening of Sunshine Girl. In short, I enjoyed this one enough to check out the new one. It is not earth-shatteringly scary – McKenzie could have gone harder – but a solid addition to the body of teen paranormal fiction.