Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous, by Suzanne Park
“Read outside your genre,” they said. “Read everything, but especially read outside your genre.”
So I did. I went someplace where I usually never go – romcom. YA romcom, at that. And you know what? I enjoyed it.
The “it” was Suzanne Park’s story about a 17-year-old social media influencer wannabe who is “exiled” to a digital detox summer camp set in the cornfields of rural Iowa.
Sun-Hee “Sonny” Song was thrust into internet stardom when she was just a toddler, dancing in a viral video of “Oppa Gangnam Style” while wearing swim goggles and a unicorn bathrobe. Riding a #GoggleGirl fame that never quite petered out, while others in her LA high school were doing things such as lifeguarding and visiting colleges, she was skimming the edge of 100K subscribers on her YouTube channel, despite a simmering parental disapproval. Then a hilariously disastrous attempt to make brownies live blooms overdramatically into #brownieporn, and voila – detox camp.
Is Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous a pretty typical frothy romcom? I think so. Yes, there is the kinda shy, does-he-or-doesn’t-he summer romance plot. Yes, there is the bitchy rival, the outsider status, the familial conflicts, the unlooked for but inevitable personal growth. Yes, there is the moral dilemma that builds to a narrative climax with just enough tension of where it might resolve. (And yes, there are the ridiculous, cringe-inducing characters that seem to exist only to get the story to where it needs to be without working too, too hard.)
But Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous has something very special and incredibly redeeming – Sunny Song herself. You might think that a book where one single character is the center of every action, the focus of every scene, the narrator of every thought, might become boring and, well, self-centered. But Sunny is absolutely delightful – flippant but not cruel, feisty but not irritating, self-deprecating enough to be sweet but with legitimate moxie. Add to that the cultural acknowledgment of the role of social media in today’s society along with an added layer of casual racism and generational sexism, giving the narrative a modern relevance to the story, and the surprising environmental themes introduced through the family farm that hosts the summer camp, and Sunny shows us that she is more than a vapid SoCal airhead, even if she’s (typically) not aware of just how much she is learning along the way. She truly is a fun character to watch.
So have I become a newly recruited devotee of the YA romcom genre? Nah. I like a little more grit in my stories, a little more depth. But am I glad I read Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous? Heck, yeah. Sometimes it’s the sweet, light, frothy dessert that satisfies the most, even if it’s not the richest thing on the menu. And for what it is, Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous definitely satisfies.
— Sharon Browning