The Haunting of Sunshine Girl by Paige McKenzie and Alyssa Sheinmel
Weinstein Books, 2015
Sunshine and her mother have left the comfort and warmth of Texas for the damp and chilly world of Washington State, a beautiful if isolated place. She and her mom have a tight relationship, with little of the typical YA angst. Their relationship is tested and strained when the house turns out to be haunted, and only Sunshine can sense the ghost.
At first, Sunshine is intrigued by the laughter in the attic, but soon things become problematic. The ghost’s mood swings and temper tantrums start to worry Sunshine. Then the ghost sets its sights on her mother. Darkness seeps in, souring everything, and threatening the life of Sunshine’s mother, who shows increasingly erratic and violent behavior.
The requisite love interest shows up, but in a satisfying twist, has a dark side which may cause Sunshine and her mom more harm than good.
The Haunting of Sunshine Girl originates from an ongoing YouTube webseries created by Paige McKenzie and hosted by The Haunting of Sunshine Girl Network, which has over 200,000 subscribers. With this novel, McKenzie, a teen prodigy, has entered publishing with a platform other authors would kill to have, with the assistance of Alyssa Sheinmel’s adept ghostwriting skills to guide her. The incredible success of the series means that fans already have expectations, and the book has to satisfy both fans of the show and readers who love supernatural fiction who know nothing about it: a difficult challenge. Rather than merely rehashing the plot of the show, McKenzie and Sheinmel’s approach meets the challenge, honing in on the story between the pages, and Sheinmel polishes the book into a slick, enjoyable read.
While this isn’t the most original tale, it is done very well. While common tropes appear frequently, they are twisted and turned in fresh ways. In addition, it’s interesting to see how the transmedia element was pushed front and center, with emphasis on the web series. While the idea is not new anymore, it’s fascinating to see how experiments in multiplatform technology in children’s and YA fiction is are playing out. This book appears to be the start of a series, and, even without the emphasis on other media, is gripping enough to send readers unfamiliar with the web series on to looking for the next book.
Reviewed by Dave Simms