I like books that can make me cry, and true stories - memoirs - that make me cry are even better. In fact, if you write a memoir and I read it and don’t cry even once, then I wonder what the heck you wasted my time for. If I borrow your life for a while, I want to feel something I have never felt in my own. Sun Shine Down by Gillian Marchenko accomplishes that. And considering I have lived through my own birthing of a child with Down syndrome, that was no easy feat.
Gillian is an American married to a Ukrainian and living in Ukraine when she gives birth to their third child, a girl with a surprise diagnosis of Down syndrome. The birth itself was traumatic and the aftermath was even worse. Gillian found herself in the inbetween space of wanting to, and knowing she is supposed to, love her baby and not quite being able to. She is both physically (the newborn is in the NICU for weeks) and mentally separated from her child. Her story is one of how she found her way to loving Polina.
I think most people take loving a baby for granted. You just assume it comes naturally, and in most situations it does. But sometimes when our expectations clash with our reality, love does not come easily. Gillian turned to many outside sources for support. Some good, some dangerous. The book is very honest about her sorrow and depression (which she was always prone to.)
The book is a little shorter than your average memoir, but I actually appreciated not having to wade through her whole life history or every needless NICU detail. She focused on the things that mattered, and she writes about them so artistically that I could not evade feeling what she did. Most Christian writers (Gillian is a born again Christian married to a pastor) can’t help but let their faith drive their narratives, but not Gillian. God was in the book but he wasn’t the “fix.”
The climax of the story is obviously that Gillian falls in love with Polina and even though you know it has to come sooner or later, when it does you’ll get chills and you might just find yourself crying again. In most stories, the resolution is the last thrill you get, but not in this story... Gillian included an epilogue that brings you back to Ukraine where you get to meet the girl who will become their fourth daughter. Those last paragraphs left me wanting more from her.
If you are looking for a good read to curl up with this winter or a great story to give as a gift to your favorite reader, Sun Shine Down will do the trick. If you’d like to score a free copy, leave a comment below. I will pick a random winner in a week or so.
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