An out of practice reader discussing the books I get around to reading.
This book was terrible. Absolutely terrible. It amazes me that it got published as is. And I loved every moment of it.
I feel the need to state a potential bias: I am in my early twenties. So it is entirely possible that this is one of those rare YA books where you have to be the target age to enjoy the book the way it was meant to be enjoyed. My developmental maturity - meaning my cognitions are more adult-like rather than normal teenage cognitions (Psych major here) - may have prevented me from being able to "get" the book. So keep that in mind as I critique the book.
The plot itself was actually coherent. I have read terrible YA books before - Asylum and Of Monsters and Madness come to mind - and unlike those other books, The Haunting of Sunshine Girl had no plot holes, no glaring inconsistencies, and no last minute solutions. And the plot itself was actually intriguing: girl moves to a haunted house, mom gets possessed by demon, girl learns she's a mystical being that can help ghosts and get rid of those pesky demons, girl must save the day. A little cliche, perhaps, but interesting just the same. The shame was it was a good plot with a poor execution.
My biggest issue with the execution was the writing felt very immature to me. I believe it's written by a teenager, though the back cover led me to believe another, older author helped write the book. I'm not entirely sure who exactly wrote the book then, but it reads like a teenager wrote it. A very talented teenager, sure. I've read FAR worse writings by the youth. But a teenager none the less. And that immaturity made the book read more like a comedy than horror. Since this book is marketed as horror - Wes Craven reviewed it, after all - I expected it to be scary, and so I was disappointed. Sort of. But I'll talk about that later.
Next point of issue: the characters. My biggest problem with the characters is they all felt like caricatures of characters rather than a real, fully fleshed out character. The only character that didn't feel that way to me was Nolan and even then he was riding REALLY close to the line. Upon reflection, Anna felt pretty realistic, but she didn't have the biggest part, so I don't know how much that actually means.
I had problems with Sunshine in particular. I found her ridiculously obnoxious and fake. She was the stereotypical "quirky, geeky girl that should have been born in another time". Now, I don't mind that type of character. I've read books with characters that fall into that type that I like very much. The problem with Sunshine is she didn't feel like a genuine quirky girl. She felt like a hollow character assigned traits in an attempt to make her seem quirky. For example, her owl, Dr. Hoo. The name itself made me cringe. At least spell out "doctor". But it bothered me because it didn't seem like Sunshine had a reason to name her owl that for any other reason than to perpetuate this "nerdy, socially awkward" persona. I don't believe it was ever mentioned if she actually watched Doctor Who. If there had been, I wouldn't have minded because then there'd be some connection and perhaps a level of depth to her character. Because we didn't see that element to her character, it seemed more like using pop culture to do the characterizing, rather than actually creating a character. Sunshine was hollow and as a result, being inside her head made it difficult to take the story seriously.
Also, her Jane Austen obsession annoyed the hell out of me, mostly because she ONLY referred to Pride and Prejudice. If Sunshine is supposed to be in love with Austen and that time period, why doesn't she reference any of the other books? It was another trait that made her seem fake and more caricature rather than character.
Another issue I had with the book was there was no build up or suspense, which is what I expect from a horror story. Everything happens so fast. Perhaps the most frustrating moment for me was when Sunshine hears the footsteps/laughter and just goes, "Golly gee, I guess there's a ghost!" despite implying she'd never believed in ghosts before that moment. I would have LOVED more build up, more denial on her part, especially since later she reveals she never believed in Santa Clause. My exact thought was "So you believe in ghosts but not Santa?" It just seemed unbelievable and it made the plot move to fast. The scares all felt more like jump scares, a quick "BOO" to make me jump. There was nothing that really stuck in my mind or kept me on the edge of my seat because everything was laid out at once, removing any mystery and the scare that would provide.
On that note, I wish the mentor sections were taken out. They were fun and provided a little mystery but they hindered the story more than they helped. He told us EVERYTHING that was going on so there was no fun of discovery and there was no scare. For example, after the scene where shit goes down in the bathroom, we find out immediately that, surprise, mom has been possessed by a demon. I wish, I REALLY wish that we hadn't been told that. I wish the next thing we read is Sunshine waking up and mom acting like nothing had happened. I wished we could experience Sunshine's confusion over her mom's sudden change of behavior. To me, that would have made the book so much more suspenseful and therefore scarier. What we don't know is always scarier than what we do, after all.
The book had the potential to be scary. I thought the concept of the different demons was amazing and the consequences of one winning honestly did send a chill down my spine. The comical nature just killed any lasting scare that could have been created otherwise.
This book is actually a really hard one for me to rate. The writing was so melodramatic and cliche that it's hard to call it good book. But I really, really enjoyed it. In fact, I'm very tempted to buy it, once I get some spare cash. And when the sequel comes out, I definitely want to read it. I suppose I would consider this like those terrible scifi-horror movies the Syfy channel shows on the weekend. It is the Sharknado of books. Well, maybe not Sharknado. Maybe more like FDR: American Badass. So I suppose I have no choice but to write two reviews for this one.
As a piece of literature: 2 stars out of 5
As a source of entertainment: 5 stars out of 5
So just use your best judgement. If you want to read something GOOD, don't pick this one up. If you want to read something FUN, read this like your life depends on it. If your tastes are like mine, you'll love every moment of it.