Kyle Cowan has crafted an enduring and important story around the weighty and often misunderstood theme of depression. In Sunshine is Forever, we see the growth of characters who at first glance were alone in their torment. Eventually, through a series of events, these characters formulate an unexpected bond cemented by their quest for freedom from Camp Sunshine, a facility for teens with mental health issues.
Sunshine is Forever is told primarily from the perspective of its main character, Hunter S. Thompson. I found it quite intriguing that Cowan chose to have his central character share his name with a famed author. But this fictional Thompson is confronted with a slew of characters and plots to rival any book. The people our Hunter meets and the events that occur lend a hand in shaping his destiny. I would argue that Sunshine is Forever effectively charts the ebb and flow of Hunter`s life.
At the outset we learn that Hunter`s depression is fed by his lingering guilt over what he refers to as “The Incident.” Here is where Cowan is masterful: we don’t learn the specifics of “The Incident” until much later in the plot progression, yet our curiosity remains at the forefront with the subtle clues that Cowan provides. Through Cowan`s insightful approach, Hunter`s back story is the map that directs him to Camp Sunshine. Depression constantly shadows Hunter. Further, the emotional overload, sense of isolation and ever present stigma that is the bane of someone suffering from mental illness paints a portrait of Hunter`s heartache. Suicide is the option the teen desires.
Cowan reminds us that miscalculation is the starting point for this tale. Yet, he also ingeniously and meticulously weaves miscalculation throughout this narrative as things don’t always go as planned.
In addition, the powerful disconnect between Hunter and his parents serves to move the story. When they feel ill equip to handle him, they remedy the situation by placing him in Camp Sunshine. But for all Camp Sunshine`s testimonials of offering “sunshine” and hope, there is darkest afoot.
As a depression sufferer for almost thirty years, I was extremely interested in seeing how this story would unfold. And while I usually hesitate in pursuing books where the core characters are teens, I will abandon caution when the writing, characterization and plot points create both an interesting and informative work. Throughout this book, Cowan maintains control over his characters as well as the story that needs to be told. This is no easy feat given the numerous teen and adult characters involved in this book.
The teen residents of Camp Sunshine carry the plot through every emotional and suspenseful destination. Cowan gives each of them a distinct voice and purpose as the narrative proceeds. Most notable is Corin Snow Young. Much mystery surrounds Corin. I found myself equating Corin with a mythical siren. Hunter becomes instantly enamored by Corin`s allure and erroneously feels that being with her may “cure” his depression. Yet, as famed Scottish poet Robert Burns metaphorically revealed, the best laid plans are full of unforeseen and life altering consequences.
As much as I was focused on Hunter while reading this book, I also remained attuned to Corin. At various times Hunter is warned by others that Corin might be manipulating him. That aura of mystery that surrounds this young woman also causes Hunter to have his doubts. I liked the discomfort and uncertainty concerning Corin`s motives because that made the eventual payoff well worth the wait.
For its willingness to confront dark themes honestly and without judgment, for its ability to create characters that wear their flaws as they search for their strengths and for writing that is unapologetically raw, I give Sunshine is Forever my highest recommendation. This book succeeds in revealing that courage may be found in the most unlikely places.