Summary: In Sunshine, Tennessee, the main event in town is Friday night football, the biggest party of the year is held in a field filled with pickup trucks, and church attendance is mandatory. For Kaycee Jean McCoy, life in Sunshine means dating guys she has no interest in, saying only “yes, ma’am” when the local bigots gossip at her mom’s cosmetics salon, and avoiding certain girls at all costs. Girls like Bren Dawson. Unlike Kaycee, Bren doesn’t really conceal who she is. But as the cool, worldly new girl, nobody at school seems to give her any trouble. Maybe there’s no harm if Kaycee gets closer to her too, as long as she can keep that part of her life a secret, especially from her family and her best friend. But the more serious things get with Bren, the harder it is to hide from everyone else. Kaycee knows Sunshine has a darker side for people like her, and she’s risking everything for the chance to truly be herself
Kaycee is such a likeable, relatable, realistic character. She wants to survive high school in a small Southern town, she wants to keep her friends and her place as a relatively popular senior…but when the new girl, Bren, starts flirting with her, she can no longer deny that what she wants more than anything is to finally, unashamedly, be herself. Elmendorf populates Sunshine, Tennessee with an intriguing variety of folks of all stripes – far beyond the usual stereotypes – from the eccentric newspaper editor who played a role in the Civil Rights Movement, to the homophobic jock out to sabotage anyone different from himself, to an array of characters willing to step out of their comfort zones to support Kaycee once her secret is out. My favorite character is Van, Kaycee’s best male friend, who despite his flamboyant style and lectures about being proud of who you are, gets by with his Johnny Depp obsession and secret boyfriends by carefully staying within the lines the small town creates for him. Kaycee’s determination to not only live her life out loud, but to make it easier for other gay teens to do so, shines through. Readers will be pulling not only for Kaycee to come through her struggles and find herself, but also for Kaycee and Bren’s sizzling romance.
SOUTH OF SUNSHINE is out now.