Ways To Make Sunshine (2020) – Renee Watson

Title:Ways To Make Sunshine
Author:Renee Watson
Publisher/s:Bloomsbury/Jonathan Ball Publishers
Date of publication:2020
Star Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐
Disclaimer:Jonathan Ball Publishers kindly sent me a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Ryan Hart has a very unique name. Everyone thinks that she’s a boy, and she has to tell them repeatedly that it is a name that means “king”. Her parents gave her the name because they want their daughter to be a leader. When you’re only in elementary school though, it’s hard for the other kids to take you seriously, and not tease you when you’re a little bit different, and especially if you’re a girl and your name is Ryan.

Luckily Ryan has a very loving family – her brother Raymond “Ray”, and her mom and dad. They are very close and have lots of family traditions. She also has two best friends – Amanda and Kiki – and they are always together. Ryan also loves to cook, and likes nothing better than experimenting with different recipes, getting her family and friends to try out her food, and helping her mom cook for the family every night. She wants to be a chef when she grows up.

Ryan’s family are African American, live in Northeast Portland, and like to attend church. Ryan especially likes Easter time, though she doesn’t like having to make a speech with all the other kids – Ryan suffers from stage fright.

Whenever they want to celebrate something they all have ice cream, and one day Ryan’s parents call their children to the kitchen table to have some ice cream. Ryan is excited to find out what they are celebrating, but it turns out to be something not worth celebrating at all. In fact, Ryan feels like doing the exact opposite of celebrating…

It seems that now that her dad has lost his job at the post office, they don’t have as much money anymore, and having less money means they have to move to a smaller house. Ryan is going to miss her old house. Moving to their new (old) house makes her miss the old house even more, but things start to look up when she discovers a mysterious box hidden in her new room. Ryan believes the last tenant of the house left the box and its contents behind for a reason, and she is determined to find out who it belonged to.

Ways to Make Sunshine follows the adventures of Ryan Hart, and is the first in a proposed series of novels about a little girl who is navigating her way through growing up, discovering new talents, learning to use her imagination, and realizing that life doesn’t always go the way she wants it to. She makes new friends and learns new things every day about her family, and her friends, and always manages to see the good in everyone around her.

Watson has written a middle-grade novel that is full of hope, and that allows young readers to experience familiar life lessons such as moving house and being proud of their differences, and their own unique heritage and traditions. Ryan Hart learns through the course of Ways to Make Sunshine the importance of friendship, and to cheer on others that are better at certain things than she is. Within her loving and supportive home, Ryan Hart learns to make the best of rainy weather, and make sunshine wherever she goes.

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