Sunflowers in February
Written by Phyllida Shrimpton
Published by Hot Key Books
Publication date: 8th February 2018
Age range: 13+
Summary (from Goodreads):
Lily wakes up one crisp Sunday morning on the side of the road. She has no idea how she got there. It is all very peaceful. and very beautiful. It is only when the police car, and then the ambulance arrive, and she sees her own body, that she realises that she is in fact… dead. But what is she supposed do now? Lily has no option but to follow her body and see her family – her parents and her twin brother start falling apart. And then her twin brother Ben gives her a once in a deathtime opportunity – to use his own body for a while. But will Lily give Ben his body back? She is beginning to have a rather good time…
A moving, startlingly funny yet achingly sad debut novel from a stunning new talent.
The bluish light to the day gives away the early hour, and I hug my knees to my chest as if I should be cold. Sitting on the grass verge of a narrow country lane I become aware, with the gradual creeping light of dawn, that I must have been here for some time.
It comes to me slowly, in the same way that I search for recent dreams when I first wake. I can’t remember . . . The shrill call of a wild bird and the urgent flapping of its wings shatters the still air, nudging me to question why I am here and not at home where I should be, in my pyjamas and tucked under my duvet.
All around there is nothing but sparse winter countryside, no house, no shop, no building.
Grief, I have learned today, is the colour grey. All around us is grey. The walls, the equipment, the skin of the dead, and the skin of the living . The reddish brown of Mum’s jacket and the green of Dad’s chunky‑knit jumper look barely sepia against this room of grey.
Having confirmed with that nod that the lifeless mass of slowly putrefying cells lying in front of them had recently been me, the living, breathing, body of Lily Richardson, fifteen years old, daughter of James and Amelia Richardson, twin sister to Ben Richardson, they are allowed to leave. Or rather, they are encouraged, gently, to abandon their child, so that the accurate cause of my death can be determined, and recorded.
When I first saw the cover and the description I was hesitant to read this because I have had quite a hit-or-miss experience with Contemporary YA books. I then saw the first few chapters being offered as a preview from Readersfirst…and I just had to read more!
This book grabbed me from the first chapter – after reading the preview I went to request the ARC on Netgalley because I just had to know what happened. Luckily, I was approved and feel very privileged to have read this prior to publication.
The main character, Lily is very realistic and relatable. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of her relationship with her family and friends, as well as the small touches to do with her favourite things which fleshed her out and made her really sympathetic. The story starts with Lily waking up on a cold morning, looking down at her body in the ditch of a country lane, the everything that happens as a result.
The mystery of who knocked her down is revealed quite early on and I thought it was handled really well. The guilty party goes through a range of coping mechanisms and I thought it was really great how their family is shown to have been affected in a negative way, just as much as Lily’s family when dealing with the aftermath of her death.
This book is a beautiful reflection on the value of life, friendship, familial love and forgiveness.
‘I’m obviously the superior twin,’ I told him frequently over the years, since I had made it down the birth canal first. Nearly sixteen years ago on 3rd June, I was born a full hour and a half before Ben had finally decided to turn up. I could imagine myself pushing and shoving my way past him, in my eagerness to be first, and then we had spent the next fifteen and three‑quarter years behaving in exactly the same way, competing for the best of everything, from the first go down the slide at the park to grabbing at the biggest slice of cake.
Yet in truth our love for each other was our strength. We fought each other’s cause, when needed, with the determination of gladiators and we protected each other from the rest of the world like private bodyguards. We were always in tune with each other.
We were each other.
I want my life back.
I’m not ready.
I don’t want to go today.
I want a future.
Everything that I could be doing rather than attending my own funeral plays in front of my eyes. I want to remember what it is like to have a huge plate of salty chips, or a squidgy cake, a cold ice cream . . . some hot chocolate. I want to go out with my friends , to party and laugh and dance.
I want to go home and tell my parents I love them.
I wish, more than anything, I had appreciated every single little bit of it.
What I liked: Good parents in a YA book – yay for this as it’s something we don’t often get to see! Lily and Ben’s relationship which was portrayed in a very realistic, yet tender way. I liked how each character was given time for development – they all came across as very human with flaws and strengths. I liked the positive messages about relationships and the importance of being honest with the people you care about and working towards your dreams.
Even better if: I found it really hard to reconcile one of the decisions Lily made partway through the book. I know that the main characters are teenagers and I can understand why she made the decision she did. I just could not agree with it and the discomfort I felt affected my enjoyment more and more as the story continued.
How you could use it in your classroom: This would be a good addition to any library catering for teenagers as the book touches on grief and bereavement, relationships with friends, boyfriends/girlfriends and family, blame and forgiveness and making the time we have count. I could see this being very popular in a secondary school library or with the text being used to spark discussion.
(Thank you to Netgalley and Hot Key Books for my e-ARC)