sunshine

Monday, September 2, 2013 |
For quite a while I thought there was something special about long-time favorite books.  Something like a block or a mental brick wall that kept me from being able to put words on a page and describe how I loved that story, and how much the reading and re-reading of it changed me.  Well, there IS a special magic surrounding old, favorite and familiar tales, but I’ve worked myself around to being able to write about them (a bit).  Robin McKinley is one of my most favorite authors, and her adult fantasy (paranormal? urban fantasy?) Sunshine is one of her best books.  The other day I needed sunshine in my life, and I picked it up off the shelf for an extremely well-timed re-read.

sunshine by robin mckinley book cover
"Her feet are already bleeding - if you like feet..."

There are places in the world where darkness rules, where it's unwise to walk. Sunshine knew that. But there hadn't been any trouble out at the lake for years, and she needed a place to be alone for a while.

Unfortunately, she wasn't alone. She never heard them coming. Of course you don't, when they're vampires.

Sunshine is a young, perfectly ordinary (she thinks!) girl with a loving, messy, normal family.  The only thing is, her world is full of the Others, including demons, Weres, and the Darkest Others, vampires.  But you can get through life pretty well as long as you avoid the dangerous parts of town and have a modicum of good sense and luck.  At least, that’s how it should be.  It turns out that Sunshine’s life won’t be so simple after she decides to drive out to the lake one summer night.

My friends know about my thing for zombies, but I usually protest that I don’t read about vampires.  This is the book that proves me a hypocrite.  It’s not that these are seductive vampires.  No, they are the utterly alien, terror-in-the-night kind.  But as Sunshine discovers, her destiny lies in a gray area, and she won’t get to pick the cut-and-dried human ‘side.’  She’ll have to live with impossibilities.  The story that takes her on that journey is fascinating and (as I said) an all-time favorite.

McKinley has created an entire world with unnamed Wars in recent history, a vampire menace, partblood discrimination, and a friendly coffee shop at its center.  However, the story’s focus is Sunshine, and her first-person narration is what makes the book work.  She’s self-deprecating, funny, afraid, and wants to cling to the normality she knows.  At the same time, she finds that deeply-hidden well of courage and strength needed to face evil, to keep on living, and to choose the right thing, even when it all seems bleak.  She’s no perfect heroine, and that, I think, is one of the reasons why readers will fall in love with her.

The thing that resonated most with me this re-read was the juxtaposition of Sunshine’s primal urge to make food and feed it to people (a metaphor for creation and nurture), and her mission/calling to do what she can to destroy evil (killing, getting her hands dirty).  Sunshine also grapples with the questions of how to be a good person while doing something that she fundamentally disagrees with, how to keep the balance of light and dark in her life, and if there is such a thing as a visible taint of evil. 

I find that the best books will speak different messages to you at different points in time.  I felt very adult this time ‘round, reading Sunshine.  It was… interesting.  In any case, it’s still a wonderful, immediate, funny, dark sort of pleasure, and I’m sure it’ll remain on the favorites shelf for years to come.

And now!  An aside featuring food: As the baker/pastry chef at her stepdad Charlie’s coffee shop, Sunshine makes many cinnamon rolls (as big as your head!), muffins, cherry tarts and Killer Zebras throughout the book.  What are Killer Zebras?  A type of cookie, of course.  The passage below (from page 227) got me thinking about making them.  A woman named Maud has just interrupted Sunshine’s solitude, and offered her a generic cookie from a packet.  It turns out that it is just this sort of fellowship with her fellow humans that Sunshine needed.

“Sometimes you have help,” I said.  “Sometimes people come along and offer you Chocolate Pinwheels.” 

“Sometimes,” she said.

“I’m Rae,” I said.  “Do you know Charlie’s Coffeehouse?  It’s about a quarter mile that way,” I said, pointing.

“I don’t get that far very often,” she said.

“Well, some time, if you want to, you might like to try our Killer Zebras.  There’s a strong family resemblance…Tell whoever serves you that Sunshine says you can have as many as you can carry away, to bring back to this park and eat.  In the sunshine.”

“Are you Sunshine then too?”

I sighed.  “Yes.  I guess.  I’m Sunshine too.”

“Good for you,” she said, and patted my knee.

So I did a little searching and found Robin’s mention of Killer Zebras as basically Betty Crocker Harlequin cookies.  I couldn’t find the original Betty Crocker recipe, but I did find this one for Chocolate Harlequins from Simon Rimmer’s Cooking for the Weekend.  I tried it.  And failed (they... spread. and the consistency is wrong).  Needless to say, I’ll be searching the cookbook section at used bookstores and sales until I find the original recipe!


Recommended for: anyone interested in paranormal and urban fantasy, fans of Emma Bull, Neil Gaiman and Sharon Shinn, and those who appreciate the full-immersion experience in a character and a fantastical world.

Interested in other food-related posts?  Check out Beth Fish Reads’ Weekend Cooking!

7 comments:

Liviania said...

I meant to do a weekend cooking post about my failed gluten-free cookie attempt. Guess I'll post it next week!

But I love this book too, and it always makes me want a cinnamon roll the size of my head. I'll settle for Shipley's, though. ^_^

JoAnn said...

Good luck searching for the original recipe! Hope you'll share it with the Weekend Cooking folks when you find it :)

Joy Weese Moll (@joyweesemoll) said...

The book sounds good. I've had chocolate pinwheels, but not zebra cookies -- they look fun!

Beth F said...

Yes, if find the recipe, please do share. I haven't heard of Sunshine, but I'm adding her to my list.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Wow! Yum!!!!!

kelley jensen said...

I really liked this book. I've bookmarked a passage from that book that I think of often--the one where she asks herself what she would do if she knew she only had 24 hours to live. Oh and the baking was killer in that book. My favorite McKinley books are The Hero and the Crown and the Blue Sword.

Elizabeth said...

I'm so glad you liked this book! I know a lot of readers hated it (WHY?? IT'S ROBIN MCKINLEY. IT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO HATE) so I'm always glad to find one of her fans who loves this book as much as I do!

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