Sarah Gerard follows her breakout novel, Binary Star, with the dynamic essay collection Sunshine State, which explores Florida as a microcosm of the most pressing economic and environmental perils haunting our society.
A Chicago Tribune Exciting Book for 2017
A Buzzfeed Most Exciting Book for 2017
A The Millions Great 2017 Preview Book
A Huffington Post Nonfiction Book by a Woman to Read This Year
A PW Spring 2017 Top 10 in Essays & Literary Criticism
In the collection's title essay, Gerard volunteers at the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, a world renowned bird refuge. There she meets its founder, who once modeled with a pelican on his arm for a Dewar's Scotch campaign but has since declined into a pit of fraud and madness. He becomes our embezzling protagonist whose tales about the birds he "rescues" never quite add up. Gerard's personal stories are no less eerie or poignant: An essay that begins as a look at Gerard's first relationship becomes a heart-wrenching exploration of acquaintance rape and consent. An account of intimate female friendship pivots midway through, morphing into a meditation on jealousy and class.
With the personal insight of The Empathy Exams, the societal exposal of Nickel and Dimed, and the stylistic innovation and intensity of her own break-out debut novel Binary Star, Sarah Gerard's Sunshine State uses the intimately personal to unearth the deep reservoirs of humanity buried in the corners of our world often hardest to face.
Characters in the following story are presenting their own versions of events and do not necessarily reflect the truth, which we may never know. Some names have been changed to protect anonymity.
The Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary sits hidden behind a bank of palms on a curve in Gulf Boulevard, which follows a strip of barrier islands from the top to the bottom of Pinellas County, Florida. The curve marks the place where Redington Shores stops and Indian Shores begins. Pastel-colored luxury hotels and salty stilt houses flank the sanctuary, and a giant fiberglass pelican marks its entrance, its paint chipped and faded from the sun. Next to the pelican a rainbow flag reads "OPEN."
Growing up in Pinellas County, I visited the sanctuary many times as a child. I remembered it being a place of encounterswith strange species, with wild instincts. Standing in the faintly shit-scented gift shop on my first day as a volunteer, I told the coordinator, Adrianne Beitl, that I'...
Most of the essays are quite long, and it may be that readers will struggle to sustain their interest in some of the topics if they don't have a personal connection to match Gerard's. For that reason, I preferred the purely autobiographical pieces to the ones that draw on historical movements. In every case, though, Gerard delves deep into place and history to figure out how she became the person she is now. I recommend these essays to nonfiction readers who like to do the same in their own lives: look back to ask the big questions of where and how they got to where they are today.
(Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).
Full Review (797 words).
Sarah Gerard's Sunshine State celebrates her coastal Florida upbringing. We've chosen five more books that also showcase Florida.
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Ava Bigtree is 12 and reeling from her mother's death. She and her siblings participate in the family business, a gator-wrangling theme park on Swamplandia!, their (fictional) Florida island. Ava has big dreams to fill her mother's shoes as head gator-wrestler and of securing her father's loyalty, but there are obstacles to overcome first – not least that her brother, Kiwi, has defected to the new Hell-themed World of Darkness park, and her sister, Osceola, in thrall to a mildewed copy of The Spiritist's Telegraph, is now dating ghosts.
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