Sunshine State by Sarah Gerard

Sunshine State

Rising literary star and Los Angeles Times First Fiction Award finalist Sarah Gerard uses her experiences growing up along Florida’s gulf coast to illuminate the struggles of modern human survival—physical, emotional, environmental—through a collection of essays exploring intimacy, addiction, obsession, religion, homelessness, and incarceration. With the personal insight o...

Title:Sunshine State
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:006243487X
Number of Pages:384 pages

Sunshine State Reviews

  • Christopher Alonso

    I wrote a review of this book for the Miami Rail. You can read it here for free:

  • Matt

    I wanted badly to like this book. I did not.

    Part of the problem is that it was described as a new take on the state of Florida. The writing of the first essay, BFF, was engaging and sharp, and the product of a critical mind—but it had nothing to do with Florida other than being tangentially set there. As I read further, the essays got longer and longer, and the writing felt like an almost gonzo journalism combination of memoir and reporting. Even in the places where Florida experiences were fron

    I wanted badly to like this book. I did not.

    Part of the problem is that it was described as a new take on the state of Florida. The writing of the first essay, BFF, was engaging and sharp, and the product of a critical mind—but it had nothing to do with Florida other than being tangentially set there. As I read further, the essays got longer and longer, and the writing felt like an almost gonzo journalism combination of memoir and reporting. Even in the places where Florida experiences were front and center, it didn't seem like the writer found a way to craft a story arc that spanned multiple essays.

    I needed very little buy-in to care about this book but couldn't find a reason to. I grew up near St. Petersburg, and I can clearly place a lot of the locations that get name-dropped. Ulmerton Road. The Seabird Sanctuary. The Petland in Largo Mall. But these places, without context or symbolism, aren't going to mean much to someone who hasn't been there. They don't evoke the same mood or imagery as Park Avenue or Seaworld or Mall of America. Usually, having descriptive world-building helps the reader create their own mental image. In this case, decontextualizing these places does nothing but distract. The writing is useful in a conversational sense, but this isn't a book that I, as a reader, can engage with. It feels like being talked at with little care to whether I'm being brought along.

    That said, I really appreciated the sections of this book that were reported out from news sources and the like. They were concise, well-written, and gave a lot of credence to the rest of the narrative.

    It's likely I'm not the audience for this book and I'm not going to get the same thing out of it as someone who did enjoy it. I don't lay blame at the author's feet for a misleading blurb, but where I do is for how the book feels confused to me. Is it a memoir? Yeah, I would say so. Is it first-person reporting? Sure, in parts. Is there a larger story to be told? It often seems like not—and is it writing that, as the book blurb says, provides a unique look at Florida? Only to the person who wrote it.

  • Lolly K Dandeneau

    my blog

    “Every day. Bob’s parent’s sued people- the city, other motorists, etc.- for a living.”

    Essays, memoir, environmental… all these things make up this collection. BFF is a fantastic choice to start the book. It’s a raw, brutal bloodletting on friendship. It’s a give and take, it’s envy and love, it’s everything crazy, young girls are made of- it’s not sugar and spice my friends. Florida grown myself, having left, lived in other countries and traveled

    my blog

    “Every day. Bob’s parent’s sued people- the city, other motorists, etc.- for a living.”

    Essays, memoir, environmental… all these things make up this collection. BFF is a fantastic choice to start the book. It’s a raw, brutal bloodletting on friendship. It’s a give and take, it’s envy and love, it’s everything crazy, young girls are made of- it’s not sugar and spice my friends. Florida grown myself, having left, lived in other countries and traveled, I too have left people behind. The Florida I returned to is never the same one I left. It is a strange world made up of transplants (people) and fierce creatures that are like throwbacks from the prehistoric age. Reading about the cult like spiritual community her parents fell into for a spell, I too scratched my head in wonder as to why they fell for it? But then, why do we fall for anything? I vaguely remember hearing murmurings in my youth about Christian Science, as much as mystery to me then as Scientology is now and how the heck are the two the same and different? My knowledge, both have roots in Clearwater, Florida. Again, you can’t live in Florida and not hear rumors or stories about both. This up close account is enthralling, and people get a high from their beliefs. Everything has something positive, why else do people turn to it?

    Then her parents get involved with Amway, and they’re prey to hope, seduced by a better life. Which got me thinking about a friend of mine and her parents getting involved with some Malacca selling scheme in the late 80’s, but that’s another story. This is one of the strangest collections I’ve read. It’s not that Gerard is strange, just life, particularly here in the Sunshine State. The bad girl high school years, her drug and alcohol didn’t ruin her as it does other kids, which makes warnings sort of fall flat doesn’t it? Some people still come out of the muck of such things unscathed, it seems. Makes those after school specials a bit suspect eh? But friends, it’s not just a Florida thing. Drugs are in all corners of this country.

    The part of the book dealing with substance abuse and homelessness is eye-opening. Painfully so. Safe Harbor and the many people waiting for disability bouncing from shelter to shelter is like a nightmare to someone like me, whose never gone hungry nor lived on the streets. Reading about the sort of women that end up in shelters… victims mostly sat with me for sometime. The Sunshine State is about a sanctuary gone awry, as best intentions often do. Ralph seems a strange, fascinating bird himself. How does hoarding come into it? Read on…

    Aside from BFF I adored her writing on Rabbit about her grandparents and her husbands own medical struggles. Again the Velveteen Rabbit appears in my reading… it’s beautiful, just the very pacts made. This collection is strange, just as life is. A talent to watch!

    Available April 11, 2017

    Harper Collins

  • Rachel León

    The first essay in this collection blew me away. I'm still reeling from its sharpness and hungry to reread it. From there the essays can be a mixed bag. Some are very strong, and others less so. Overall it's a solid collection with that first essay as the most notable. For those who enjoy essay collections, this one is pretty fantastic.

  • Thomas

    An eclectic essay collection that touches on topics ranging from friendship to homelessness to the environment. Sarah Gerard's strongest essays, such as "BFF" and "Rabbit", explore intimate emotions like loss and jealousy with vulnerability and detail. Some of her pieces that looked outward did not resonate with me as much, because even though they explored important topics, I could not hear Gerard's voice over the inundation of facts and interviews. Overall, a good combination of unique pieces

    An eclectic essay collection that touches on topics ranging from friendship to homelessness to the environment. Sarah Gerard's strongest essays, such as "BFF" and "Rabbit", explore intimate emotions like loss and jealousy with vulnerability and detail. Some of her pieces that looked outward did not resonate with me as much, because even though they explored important topics, I could not hear Gerard's voice over the inundation of facts and interviews. Overall, a good combination of unique pieces that could have been pulled together more tightly with a greater unifying theme or voice. Excited to see how Gerard's writing develops in the future.

  • Vincent Scarpa

    I had the great privilege to read this book months ago, but seeing as it's pub day and

    is officially out in the world, I'm bumping this up. I adored Sarah's debut novel

    with something like religious fervor, and this collection somehow manages to more than live up to the impossibly high standard that novel set. Gerard's prose is deft and lyrical, her curiosity unyielding and insatiable. These essays are documents of a prismatic mind at work on the page, examining, as Jo

    I had the great privilege to read this book months ago, but seeing as it's pub day and

    is officially out in the world, I'm bumping this up. I adored Sarah's debut novel

    with something like religious fervor, and this collection somehow manages to more than live up to the impossibly high standard that novel set. Gerard's prose is deft and lyrical, her curiosity unyielding and insatiable. These essays are documents of a prismatic mind at work on the page, examining, as Joan Didion has it, "the ways in which our investments in each other remain too freighted ever to see the other clear." I recommend this book like I'd recommend drinking water.

    "I open up this time so I can feel all the other time around it. I can see it in sharp focus: a difference of this or that, the light or the dark. I am choosing the light. In the dark, hurt is pushed to the perimeter and stretched. It is variegated, bold. A bright pink scar. In the light, I can love you the way I want to. The way you deserve. I hope you're happy."—from the wonderful opening essay, "BFF"

  • Rebecca Foster

    Gerard reflects on her growing-up years in Florida and explores the history of several organizations that have captured her imagination. Often, she moves from the personal to the general, first explaining what a certain movement means to her and then retreating into the past to provide its thorough history. Most of the essays are quite long, and it may be that readers will struggle to sustain their interest in some of the topics if they don’t have a personal connection. For that reason, I prefer

    Gerard reflects on her growing-up years in Florida and explores the history of several organizations that have captured her imagination. Often, she moves from the personal to the general, first explaining what a certain movement means to her and then retreating into the past to provide its thorough history. Most of the essays are quite long, and it may be that readers will struggle to sustain their interest in some of the topics if they don’t have a personal connection. For that reason, I preferred the purely autobiographical pieces (“BFF” and “Rabbit”). In every case, though, the author delves deep into place and history to figure out how she became the person she is now. I recommend these essays to nonfiction readers who like to do the same in their own lives: look back to ask the big questions of where and how they got to where they are today.

    See my full review at

    .

    See also my

    .

  • Amy Bernhard

    I read this book because I'm also writing about place. I think it's incredibly challenging to write a researched piece while sustaining a clear, engaging personal narrative. Gerard struggles here. Some of these essays read like a dissertation. The research goes on for pages and we lose Gerard's voice. I think most of these essays would have benefited from more personal story and way less research--they're very long and easily could have been cut in half. I'm also not sure why "Records" was inclu

    I read this book because I'm also writing about place. I think it's incredibly challenging to write a researched piece while sustaining a clear, engaging personal narrative. Gerard struggles here. Some of these essays read like a dissertation. The research goes on for pages and we lose Gerard's voice. I think most of these essays would have benefited from more personal story and way less research--they're very long and easily could have been cut in half. I'm also not sure why "Records" was included in this collection. It's a strictly personal essay, yes, but it's too long and lacks insight. I like the twist at the end but it would have been more resonant in a shorter piece. These essays need tighter edits.

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