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Hello, Sunshine by Laura Dave

BOTTOM LINE: Another winner of a novel from Ms. Dave

Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publication Date: 11 July 2017
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“Sunshine Mackenzie is living the dream—she’s a culinary star with millions of fans, a line of #1 bestselling cookbooks, and a devoted husband happy to support her every endeavor.

And then she gets hacked.

When Sunshine’s secrets are revealed, her fall from grace is catastrophic. She loses the husband, her show, the fans, and her apartment. She’s forced to return to the childhood home—and the estranged sister—she’s tried hard to forget. But what Sunshine does amid the ashes of her own destruction may well save her life.

In a world where celebrity is a careful construct, Hello, Sunshine is a compelling, funny, and evocative novel about what it means to live an authentic life in an inauthentic age.”

My Thoughts: One of the reasons I enjoy Laura Dave‘s novels when I tend to not enjoy other women’s fiction is the fact that she takes modern-day fads/interests/trends and puts them into perspective. She did this with divorce, with the wine craze, and now with social media. Hello, Sunshine is not just a warning about the dangers of getting caught up in an online persona, though that certainly is one aspect of Sunshine’s story. It is also an attempt to reconcile real life with the online version. It is a fine line that she treads very well, keeping her characters authentic and the decisions they make good for them while recognizing they may not be good for others.

Like any good character, Sunshine is by no means perfect, no matter how she presents herself to the public. She focuses on material objects and on appearances to the point of driving readers to boredom. She is self-obsessed to a fault; she very rarely considers how her actions impact others and adopts a tone of self-righteousness when the shit hits the fan. She is spoiled, annoying, and exactly what you would expect from an online “celebrity.”

The best part is that while Sunshine does change and grow quite a bit throughout the course of the novel, this is not a fairy tale. She does not wake up one day and recognize where the fault resides for all of her problems. She is no Ebeneezer Scrooge who sees the error of her ways and vows to make everything right. Rather, a good chunk of the novel is watching Sunshine fall as low as she can go, for she continues to make grievous errors and say daft things in situations where she should have learned her lesson after her life implodes. Even after she hits rock bottom, her path to recovery is slow and not finished by the time the novel ends. Sunshine has learned a lot about herself but readers are left with doubts as to whether she has learned enough. The ending is uncertain and a bit contentious; the happily-ever-after ending readers may expect does not exist. In other words, it is a real ending that does more to redeem Sunshine than any other possible close to her story.

As Sunshine is weighing her options and reviewing her life’s choices, there is the inevitable evaluation about social media and an online presence as befitting someone who earned her fame and fortune to the Internet. None of what she comes to realize is life-altering or even all that surprising. I think everyone understands how false online personas can be with its staged pictures of how you want to be see or your life to be seen, the makeup that hides the flaws, the backdrops to hide the dirt and clutter. However, what Hello, Sunshine does do is show what happens when we start believing the myth, when we become so focused on capturing the perfect picture or writing the snappiest tweet that we forget what is happening in front of our faces. It is watching life through your phone camera versus enjoying life without it. At no point in time does the story get preachy because honestly there are no good answers. As Sunshine learns, social media is here to stay; it is how the world functions now. The question then revolves around how often we let social media intrude in our lives and how intrusive we let it become. This is what we all have to ask ourselves; Hello, Sunshine provides the perfect building block for the introspection needed to determine the answers.

Hello, Sunshine is an excellent balance between frivolous and serious. Through Sunshine’s ruminations on the ruination of her career, Ms. Dave posits some excellent ideas about social media and its seductiveness. She also presents the very real struggle we all have regarding remaining authentic online and present in our everyday lives. There are no easy answers and no fast path to recovery, as Ms. Dave is careful to show. The realism of the story and the questions raised about social media’s role in our lives makes this an excellent read, one I devoured in one sitting.

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