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Book Review: Summer Secret (Sonshine Girls #1) by René Morris

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When 13-year-old Kristin moves from Georgia to Texas she is thankful to quickly find a new group of friends. Charli, Jessica and Anna eagerly open the doors of their life-long friendship to include her as a fourth member. Life in Rimsfield sparkles with new promise as the girls plan for the summer youth group church camp and the upcoming school year.

It soon becomes apparent that Greta Hansley — the polished, wealthy church bully — is determined to bring Kristin down. When it becomes apparent that Kristin's grandmother Ellie (her legal guardian) is somehow connected to Greta’s grandmother Alma in a shady secret that took place in Rimsfield, the conflict escalates. Neither Ellie nor Alma are willing to speak of the past and rumors fly fast and furious. How will Kristin be able to keep her cool and respond to the mounting pressures in a Christian manner?

Anna — the most fashion conscious of the group — infiltrates Greta’s group of friends in an effort to root out any further information on the secret history between Ellie and Alma. Worried about the appearances of such behaviour on the new Christian walk of their friend Jessica, Charli and Kristin decide to call off the devious plan. However, Anna’s undercover mission seems to become a defection as she refuses to give up her new friendships after the plan is called off.  It seems that a large dose of forgiveness is the prescribed antidote to the ills of everyone involved, but will the girls (and grandmothers) be able to act with humility and grace?

In the first of a planned series, debut author René Morris guides her characters through the treacherous straits of adolescence. Providing the girls with challenges, caring friends, godly mentors, and wise parents, Morris clearly illustrates through them Christ-like responses to the turbulent times that go hand in hand with the 'tween/teen years. Any young Christian girl facing changes in friendship, school or church cliques, bullying etc. will find encouragement, reassurance and potential solutions in Summer Secret.

The uncomfortable transition through puberty is developed as the friends struggle with new pressures in the areas of makeup, elaborate hairstyles and newly discovered crushes. This certainly isn’t unusual, but our family normally avoids fashion and romantic references in reading material for our children – twelve or thirteen is nowhere near being ready for marriage. However, Morris keeps levels low, with awkwardness, blushes, “cute boys” and heightened awareness making up the bulk of such references. In a sex-saturated market (even for 'tweens/teens) I must give her credit from refraining from more overt interactions that many titles for young readers are now including. On the wholesome scale Summer Secret still ranks high.

With four main characters and rapid scene changes between the girls to follow the changes each of them faces, Summer Secret is unable to be a character-driven novel at 148 pages. It reminds me strongly of the novels for young people that I read in elementary school: Sweet Valley High, Babysitters Club and other girl “club” series. Each character is introduced, their likes, dislikes, appearance and personality is sketched out and we’re off into the adventure of puberty! As an adult I’m not fond of such set ups, but 'tweens gobble these series’ up like candy (and so did I at that age).

Morris excels, setting herself apart from the norm by providing a guiding set of Christian values for girls who are navigating the emotional white water that life throws at them. I wish that such a series had been available as an alternative to the fluff I was reading at this age. Morris offers guidance that rests on the rock of Jesus Christ, shining His light into these difficult years. If your daughter is binging on girly books that don’t direct her to Christ, set her up with the Sonshine Girls – they’ll steer her straight.

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