Author:Douglas Armstrong
Publisher: iUniverse, Inc.
ISBN: 978-1-4502-5873-9

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‘Even sunflowers cast shadows’, an elderly character  cryptically says midway in this bittersweet tale of innocence lost. And indeed, the darkness lurking behind the seemingly perfect lives of her neighbors is what feisty little tomboy - and narrator of this tale -  Emma Starkey must come to terms with,  in this skillfully crafted bildungsroman by  author Douglas Armstrong. Set in the 1920s  in a small town in Kansas, the book captures  life in that bygone era,  the small pleasures and sorrows of its colorful characters, and the many heartbreaks that pave the road  to that mysterious place called Growing Up.

For six year old Emma, life gravitates between running wild with her siblings, and trying to stay on the right side of her stern father , harried mother and a grandmother swiftly succumbing  to dementia.  She tries her best to be pious, obedient  and charitable, but is invariably the one to giggle at a deathbed, think of  dog poo in church or ruin her mother’s best curtains with an impulsive act of goodwill.   “ Do you suppose “, she fearfully asks a friend,  “ if I hang onto my soul real tight, I can keep God from yanking it up to heaven and passing judgment on me after I die?”

When the intriguing and boisterous Drummond family moves in next door, Emma is delighted to find  both a best friend  and the exquisite pain of her first crush.  But all is not what it seems with the Drummonds – secrets lurk behind their picture perfect lives and when Mr. Drummond abruptly abandons his family for another woman, their lives begin to unravel.  Over the next four years,  the lives of the Starkeys and the Drummonds grow intricately bound by friendship, rivalry
and the burden of shared secrets, before a tragic death changes their lives forever.

Author Armstrong gifts his narrator with a rich and wonderful voice – she is precocious, knowing, angry  and heartbreakingly naïve all at once, and reminded me of Scout Finch, the remarkable  narrator of that American classic, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.  Through Emma's  keen and curious  eyes we view her tumultuous  world, and watch her negotiate love, lust , sorrow and heartbreak .  Armstrong   peoples this book with complex and flawed characters-even scheming little children! -  yet writes them with an empathy that makes them hard to dislike.

Nor does he does not skirt around sensitive issues; little Emma encounters sexual predators, racism and death, and  takes her first steps toward sexual awareness. More significantly, she finds out that family can be fickle , cruel and unfaithful . For Emma’s is a world teeming with unreliable adults – a taciturn and emotionally remote father, predatory neighbours, perverted postmen, racist townsmen, adulterors. The few grown ups  she is drawn to – her aunt, a youthful class teacher – invariably abandon her. Closer home, even as  the Drummond’s teenaged daughter  threatens to become the town scandal, Emma’s own sister Eileen blossoms into a manipulative siren and rival for the affections of dashing Rach Drummond. 

‘Sunflowers..’ chronicles Emma’s painful coming of age with grace, poignancy and heart, and is the kind of  book that stays with you long after you’ve turned the last page. Also worth noting is the arresting black and white image on the cover, designed by the author’s son, that beautifully captures the essence of its memorable heroine.

Click Here To Purchase Even Sunflowers Cast Shadows