I haven’t written a book report in a while. Why? I am reading two long books at the same time, which means neither one of them is finished. But, yippee-dippee, I small but significant little book has appeared, and I got so excited about it, that I got it the day it was published: Sunnyside Plaza, by Scott Simon.
Stereotypical hippy liberals like me will recognize the name Scott Simon, because he is the host of Weekend Edition on NPR. He also has one of the best Twitter feeds that I read. He is smart, funny, and insightful. He’s also a good writer, and Sunnyside Plaza is his first book in the Young Adult genre.
Now, don’t turn away because it’s YA Fiction. Some of my favorite writers focus on that genre. All it means, in this case, is that the book isn’t very long. It does not mean that the subject matter and its implications aren’t also appropriate for us non-young adults.
Simon based the book on people he met as a teen when he had a summer job in a halfway house for intellectually disabled adults, only it wasn’t called that back then, of course. Part of what makes him such an empathetic adult came, no doubt, from his experiences with these folks.
So, yes, it’s a book about people who live in a group home and have varying degrees of cognitive impairments. It’s told through the eyes of Sal, who you just have to love, a lot, by the time the book is over. During the course of solving a mystery at Sunnyside Plaza, Sal and her friends learn just how capable they are, and the people around them come to see them as individuals with charm, wit, and strengths.
It never hurts to be reminded that people who are different are still whole human beings with much in common with the rest of us. But I saw something that is sticking with me after I finished the book: it doesn’t take owning a lot of things, being accomplished, or even being able to talk to live a whole and happy life. The joys of living in the moment are perhaps more available to people who don’t have to go off to work, think about bills, or all those things. Love, friendship, fun, and yes, even sad things, are all available to experience when there isn’t so much clutter to get in the way.
The people living in Sunnyside Plaza like it being just the way they are. The people they meet who get to know them also come to feel the same. That’s an important lesson I’m glad I’ve learned, that everybody has their own wisdom.
I strongly recommend this book for you, any teens you know, and any mean people who poke fun at others, not that they’ll read it. But maybe it will teach all of us to be a bit kinder.
While I have to read the book club selection next (Furious Hours, about Harper Lee), I am wanting to jump right into another book I just got, which I think builds on the lessons of Sunnyside Plaza: Talking to Strangers, by Malcolm Gladwell. This book dives deep into why it’s so hard to really talk to people from different parts of society from ourselves, but why it’s so worth it.
However, I have to finish my giant scientific book, Behave, first. It’s hard to read about brain chemistry when you are about to fall asleep, but it’s interesting!