In middle grade graphic novel Saving Sunshine by Saadia Faruqi (First Second, September 2023), twin teenagers must face the ultimate punishment this vacation: no cell phones. It’s not a permanent punishment, but it sure feels like it. They can only get them back when they can get along without fighting. While their parents attend a work conference, Zara and Zeeshan eventually learn to get along when they bond in helping a sick sea turtle return to the sea.
Zara has always been an environmental activist, and her brother has teased her for her passion. Zeeshan has always been obsessed with NASA events. But now, the two try to figure out how to help Sunshine the sea turtle. The two seek out ways to help the sea turtle, all the while experiencing new opportunities they may not have noticed is they were still glued to their phones. Zara comes to understand and support Zeeshan’s interest in space, and Zeeshan finds a cause of his own. He finds that he wants to stand up against racism because of the unfair judgements against them as Muslims in America. This multicultural perspective provides a new insight for the middle grade reader.
Although I struggled the constant arguing in the first half of the book (too close to home!), it was nice to see the kids come together by the end of their vacation. The punishment was certainly one the young readers can relate to. The art was very nice: flashbacks to times they got along with each other are shown in a sepia tone in contrast to the multi-colored modern day illustrations. The characters’ heritage and religion also provides an important and unique voice that is often missing from the middle grade bookshelf.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advance review copy of this book provided by the publisher via NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.