44 pages 1 hour read

Jason Reynolds

Sunny

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2018

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Sunny is a 2018 young adult novel written by American author Jason Reynolds. It is the third of four installments in the New York Times bestselling Track series, in which each volume follows a different member of an elite middle-school track team. This book follows Sunny Lancaster as he struggles to cope with the guilt of losing his mother during his birth, his strained relationship with his father, and his desire to quit track despite his success. With the support of adults in his life and his friends on the track team, Sunny discovers new passions and explores his identity. This study guide refers to the Atheneum Books for Young Readers edition.

Plot Summary

Over the course of a week, protagonist Sunny Lancaster writes a series of journal entries about his day-to-day life and how he navigates the issues that affect him such as childhood trauma, exploring new interests, and family relationships.

Sunny explains that he has begun writing in his diary again after a long hiatus to cope with his anxiety that is increasing because he has decided to quit running for his track team, the Defenders. Running is something his father, Darryl, expects Sunny to do to fulfill his promise and honor his deceased mother. Sunny and his father are not comfortable addressing the weight of this loss. Instead, they do puzzles every night that depict pictures of Sunny’s mother.

Sunny has become increasingly interested in dance and movement, which he learns from his private teacher, Aurelia, who was his mother’s best friend and is recovering from an addiction. Sunny’s coach is supportive after Sunny explains his complicated family situation and his reasons for wanting to quit. He invites Sunny to try a completely different event: the discus throw.

Sunny and Aurelia go to the hospital where Sunny’s grandfather, Gramps, works. They dance for the patients there and Sunny sees his favorite patient, Mr. Rufus. In Gramps’s office, Sunny explains that he will not run anymore, and that he wants to pursue his interest in dance. Gramps calls Darryl and that night Darryl asks Sunny to explain a little more about why he wants to quit running. Darryl tries to convince Sunny that he needs to keep running because his mother no longer can. Sunny says the pressure Darryl puts on him is suffocating.

At the hospital, Sunny learns that Mr. Rufus is now in a coma after a rapid decline in health. Sunny gets the idea to perform his dance for Mr. Rufus anyway by applying a sound to each movement in the routine.

At practice, Sunny struggles to throw the discus correctly, and nearly hits his teammates with an errant throw. Coach tells Sunny that he will have to have an added practice on Friday to be better prepared for the meet on Saturday.

After finding Sunny crying, Darryl apologizes for being emotionally unavailable and pushing Sunny away. The next morning, Darryl takes off work to spend time with Sunny. They eat breakfast together and learn how to navigate the new boundaries of their relationship as they try to communicate better. Later, they have an honest conversation in which Darryl admits that he feels inadequate as a father without Sunny’s mother there to co-parent with them.

Saturday is the day of the meet and Sunny’s birthday. At the meet, Aurelia and Gramps arrive carrying a bushel of balloons. Aurelia draws a green star on Sunny’s forearm for good luck and as a reminder of his mother. Sunny’s first two throws are fouls. After seeing Darryl cheering and hearing inspiring words from Coach, Sunny winds up and throws again. 

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