Wacky YA Novel examines the decision and heartbreak of a Sikh-American boy – Best American Indian Magazine | San Jose California
Sunny G’s series of rash decisions by Navdeep Singh Dhillon is a goofy debut game for young adults set in and around Fresno on an over-the-top party for the title character. The presence of Sunny Gill is expected at two contradictory events that evening: the barsi for his older brother and the Snollygoster Soiree where his heavy metal band is to perform for a gathering of fellow fan fiction fanatics. Instead, Sunny chooses to fill the notebook her brother Goldy left her with a series of rash decisions.
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Decisions don’t come easy for Sunny, but he’s determined to make some pretty reckless and impulsive ones. Goldy, who died of alcohol poisoning a year earlier, was gay, alcoholic, carefree and cool. Sunny is quite the opposite, but he bravely makes his first rash decisions:
- Change face. (He shaves his beard, cuts his hair, throws off his turban.)
- Go to the ball. (He wants the “all-important prom experience” even without a date.)
At the prom, Sunny’s self-fame and nervous stutter are mercilessly mocked, flushing the experiment down the toilet. The night escalates when Mindii Vang, a Hmong teenager known for making brash decisions on her own, steals Sunny’s crocheted clutch (part of his cosplay outfit he wears to prom), jumps on his motorbike and run through the night.
Desperate to retrieve her wallet – which contains her phone, money, student ID, and Goldy’s notebook – Sunny manages to find Mindii. She then leads Sunny on a nighttime adventure to weird and wonderful places he’s never been. In his quest to make rash decisions, Sunny encounters people who impact his view of himself and his future. And, on the undeniable plus side, his escapades are sprinkled with an unexpected dash of romance.
The book is, of course, intended for a readership of teenagers who like disguisepass out Avatar: The Last Airbenderand drop endless pop and fan-fic references (there are are mentions of Bollywood movies as well). Nonetheless, there are two important topics that make Dhillon’s first YA novel a must-read.
The novel is populated by characters from several diverse communities across language, culture, place, and food. These characters from the Hmong, Ghanaian and Nigerian communities and across gender and sexuality spectrums, are seamlessly integrated into Sunny Gill’s story. Sunny, himself, is a goofy but fun narrator who is, according to the author in an interview, “A super nerdy, cosplay, crochet, Bollywood obsessed Punjabi-Sikh teenager trying to figure himself out while dealing with heartbreak and an uncertain future after high school.” The portrayal of Punjabi-Sikh adolescents in young adult literature is overdue and duly celebrated.
However, the foundation of “Sunny G” lies in the honest portrayal of a teenager struggling with ableism and bullying, racism and xenophobia, and most importantly, the effects of alcoholism and addiction on families. . Where Dhillon’s storytelling shines is in the inclusion of grief. Pure and confusing, simple and complex, grief between siblings and generations is an important part of Sunny and Mindii. Sadly, Sunny says of the loss of her family, “We twist ourselves into all kinds of positions to avoid saying what we really think or feel.”
Sunny and Mindii bond as they share their grief through stories and memories about Sunny’s big brother and Mindii’s beloved grandmother in casual conversation, extending to each other the courtesy to listen, speak and respond without the feelings of either being overshadowed. Thus, adolescents feel free to reveal their wounds, their losses and their discoveries. Dhillon also gives Sunny the opportunity to express her deepest emotions through her music, fueled by her family’s “deafening and silent grief.”
One of Sunny’s social media posts reveals the crux of her series of rash decisions: “Don’t let life slip away from you wondering what if. BE the IF.
Jeanne E. Fredriksen lives in the two Carolinas where she has long contributed to Currents of India and a children’s book reviewer for Book List Magazine/American Library Association. She is also a member of SCBWI (Society of Writers and Illustrators of Children’s Books) and NCWN (North Carolina Writers’ Network).