Story Rating: 4 stars
Audio Rating: 2 stars
Narrator: Nicholas Santasier
Length: 5 hours, 31 minutes
Russ is an angry teen and life hasn’t been going well for a while. His father left the family years ago and his mother remarried a man that barely tolerates him. Russ has a stepbrother he doesn’t get along with and he’s just waiting to turn eighteen so he can drop out of school. But first, he has to complete the many hours of community service at a children’s hospital he was sentenced to when he got into trouble yet again. Russ thinks he will finally get a car to drive himself to the hospital, but what he gets is a bus pass.
When Russ arrives at the hospital, he is completely out of his element with the younger children that are either burn victims or in different stages of cancer. He immediately meets CJ, a teen who brings smiles to the children by performing as a clown as often as he can. Yet CJ is a permanent resident at the hospital and has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
When Russ’ hours at the hospital have him spending all of his time with CJ, they form a true friendship that turns into love. CJ discovers Russ is a talented artist, which has them designing murals for the hospital and turning Russ’ life around with plans for art school. Russ has to work harder than ever while struggling with being in love for the first time and coming to accept that it will have an expiration date as CJ’s health deteriorates.
If you are looking for a YA novel for a teen (or even for yourself) that takes on or introduces first love, bisexuality, confrontational family issues, and terminal illness, Ray of Sunlight would be an excellent choice.
Russ is fairly alone in the world. After his father left he constantly got in trouble and his mother was not a guiding force in his life. His stepfather despises him out of principle it seems and Russ doesn’t care about anyone or anything. At the start of the book he is angry and selfish and really just lashing out since he has no structure in his life and no support.
He finds a completely new life within the walls of the hospital and the catalyst is CJ. CJ was beaten and disowned by his family when his father caught him kissing a boy and shortly after he was admitted to the hospital. With a terminal prognosis and nowhere to go, he became a resident. Yet CJ has a bright outlook. He puts on shows and tries to entertain the younger children at the hospital in an attempt to make all their days brighter. He would have every reason to be angry at everything, yet he’s just not.
CJ is the most positive influence on Russ and exactly what Russ needed. Russ has always known he was attracted to both boys and girls, but has never dated anyone and certainly knows he can’t bring a guy anywhere near his homophobic stepfather. The hospital and CJ become Russ’ motivation in life and CJ sees in Russ opportunities that Russ never thought were even a possibility, like going to college.
I would have liked more back story on Russ’ family, especially his mother who was largely off page and emotionally absent from Russ’ life. Even when Russ was pulling it all together, there was no support to be found. Russ was 17 for most of the story and was dealing with so many adult issues all on his own. Also, Russ comments many times that he has no idea why it became so important to be able to see CJ. I understood this was a whole new experience for him, but his repetitive inner dialogue did become just that, repetitive.
Keep in mind however that CJ does indeed have terminal cancer and there are emotionally intimate moments to be shared. The epilogue takes us into the future where it could be viewed as either uplifting, still immersed in sadness, or possibly even both, and I almost felt like Russ does need another story. The story clearly depicts finding the one person that will forever impact your entire life or change your direction or give you a purpose no matter how long that person is here for. Ray of Sunlight is a recommended and emotionally charged book for the YA reader.
From the first word, I questioned the choice of Nicholas Santasier as the narrator for this book. His voice throughout the entire audio was grumbly and mumbly and shouty and mean. While Russ’ character did have an attitude, Santasier’s interpretation sounded like a grown man throwing attitude. Every character had the same voice and the greatest difference was the volume in which he spoke. Russ’ stepfather had the same exact voice as Russ, but was just louder and meaner and more grumbly. CJ as well had the same voice for the most part. The narrator did try to change his voice slightly at times, but it would last for a few words and then revert back to the same overall narrative tone. There were some tender and poignant moments and a vast range of emotion in this book that the tone failed to capture, and I viewed it largely as a missed opportunity. I spent a good portion of the audio pondering the choice of narrator for this particular story and wishing I was reading the ebook. I would not look for this narrator again in the future.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.