Sunny tries to shine despite his troubled past in this third novel in the critically acclaimed Track series from National Book Award finalist Jason Reynolds.
Ghost. Patina. Sunny. Lu. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds, with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics. They all have a lot of lose, but they all have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves. Sunny is the main character in this novel, the third of four books in Jason Reynold’s electrifying middle grade series.
Sunny is just that—sunny. Always ready with a goofy smile and something nice to say, Sunny is the chillest dude on the Defenders team. But Sunny’s life hasn’t always been sun beamy-bright. You see, Sunny is a murderer. Or at least he thinks of himself that way. His mother died giving birth to him, and based on how Sunny’s dad treats him—ignoring him, making Sunny call him Darryl, never “Dad”—it’s no wonder Sunny thinks he’s to blame. It seems the only thing Sunny can do right in his dad’s eyes is win first place ribbons running the mile, just like his mom did. But Sunny doesn’t like running, never has. So he stops. Right in the middle of a race.
With his relationship with his dad now worse than ever, the last thing Sunny wants to do is leave the other newbies—his only friends—behind. But you can’t be on a track team and not run. So Coach asks Sunny what he wants to do. Sunny’s answer? Dance. Yes, dance. But you also can’t be on a track team and dance. Then, in a stroke of genius only Jason Reynolds can conceive, Sunny discovers a track event that encompasses the hard hits of hip-hop, the precision of ballet, and the showmanship of dance as a whole: the discus throw. As Sunny practices the discus, learning when to let go at just the right time, he’ll let go of everything that’s been eating him up inside, perhaps just in time.
Aurelia asked me how long it’s been since I’ve spoken to you. I told her, a while. When I was a little kid and was all yelly-yelly and Darryl wanted me to be more hushy-hushy, he gave me you and told me to put the noise on your pages whenever I felt like I needed to, which was all the time except for when I was running or sleeping. Told me to fold it up in you, so he could get some peace. So he could have quiet for concentration when we picked at our puzzles after work. Yes, Diary, we still do puzzles together. It’s still our way of, I guess, bonding. Anyway, after a while, my brain stopped pushing so much loud out of my mouth. Stopped noisey-ing up the puzzling. Thanks to you.
You know how a health bar makes you less hungry, but don’t really make you full? Diary, that’s what you are. A health bar. You take the hunger-growl out of my mind. And once I got to a place where the growl was pretty much a purr, I stopped writing in you. But now the volume on the growl is turning up again. And even though it’s being turned up, I can feel it working its way down, pushing behind my eyes, and marching over my tongue, ready to come out. And my father, well, he still doesn’t want to be disturbed. And I don’t want to disturb him and his work, and his newspaper, and definitely not the puzzles, because the puzzles are our time. So, Diary, thanks for still being a friend. Something for me to bite down on. Something for me to whisper-scream to. Because sometimes I have too many screams up there. And they boing boing in my brain
boing boing in my brain
like a jumping bean,
boing boing in my brain
like a jumping bean
my brain a moon bounce at a party nobody’s invited to.
And now I can put them in you, again.
And now Aurelia’s asking me about it. About you. Asking me about journaling. No. Diary-ing. Which sounds like diarrhea-ing. Which is sorta the same thing. Aurelia told me she thinks it’s a good thing I’ve been writing again. Even wanted to make sure I understood that whatever I write down don’t have to make sense as long as it’s really me. Really my brain and heart stuff. And that’s a good thing, even though I already knew that, because making sense makes no sense to me. Sense should kinda already be made, right? It should already exist like love, or maybe sky. You don’t have to create it or choreograph it or nothing like that. At least I don’t think you do. So none of this has to make sense, it just has to make . . . me, me. I’m already me, but it has to make me . . . something. Make me quiet and calm, and maybe also make me brave enough to do what I’m going to have to do tomorrow at the track meet, which is probably not going to be quiet or calm. That’s the real reason Aurelia’s interested in you, Diary. She thinks I don’t know that, but I know. I know because I know she knows I’m scared. That’s why I brought you back. I’m so scared. And scared don’t sound like eek. Or gasp. Scared sounds like glass. Shattering.
Scared sounds like glass shattering.
Diary, after all these years, you ever not want to be written in? On? Am I writing on you or in you? Or both? And how does that make you feel? I’ve never really asked you that. You ever just want to stay blank? Just be paper or whatever you think you are? Because I know what that’s like. And tomorrow, my father will too.
Also, Aurelia called you a journal, but you’re a diary, so I will call you by your name.
Sunny has never celebrated his birthday; that’s because the day he was born was the day his mother died. For as long as he can remember, his father has taught him to run. His father’s instruction lands him on the Defenders track team, with one goal in mind: to win the first-place ribbons his mother never got to win. But lately, running has made him feel like he can’t breathe. As much as he does not want to disappoint his teammates and Coach, it’s time to stop running and start living his own life.
1. Sunny tells his diary, “You take the hunger-growl out of my mind.” How does writing in his diary help Sunny work through the things that are bothering him? What do you do when you feel like Sunny?
2. What makes Sunny decide to start walking on the last lap of his race?
3. Why did Darryl teach Sunny to run track? Do your parents expect or encourage you to do something like play a particular sport or musical instrument? How do you feel about it? Do you love anything the way Sunny loves dancing?
4. One of the book’s themes is the idea of choosing not to run, both literally and figuratively. In the beginning of the book, what have Darryl and Sunny been running from? What position are they in by the end?
5. How did Sunny’s mother die? What do you think she would say about Sunny’s decision to stop running?
6. When we talk about literature, we say that characters who change over the course of a text are dynamic characters. Which characters in Sunny are dynamic? Explain how and why these characters change.
7. What do you think about the way Sunny is homeschooled? Would you like to learn this way? Describe his relationship with Aurelia. Why is she so important to him?
8. Why do you think Coach finds a way to keep Sunny on the track team even after he stops racing?
9. Why doesn’t Sunny call Darryl his dad? At one point, he addresses his diary entries to his father. Find these entries and reread them. Why do you think he writes these specific entries to Darryl and Dad instead of “Dear Diary”?
10. Talk about the scene where Darryl apologizes. Why do you think it is so hard for Darryl to tell Sunny that he’s sorry? How does the apology impact their relationship? What do you think might have happened to their relationship if Darryl had never apologized?
11. The name of Sunny’s track team is the Defenders. What does the word defender mean to you? How do members of the team defend each other?
12. What is the significance of Aurelia’s star tattoos? Why do you think she draws a star on Sunny at the end of the book?
13. Jason Reynolds has decided to end each of the books in this series without letting the reader know the outcome of the competition. Why do you think he chooses to end them this way? What do you think happens after the book ends?
14. Sunny’s parents met when they were Sunny’s age, and they made plans for how they wanted their lives to play out. Have you thought about your plan for the future? Where do you want to be in five, ten, fifteen, and twenty years? Sunny’s parents chose to invest their time, money, and energy in things that would help them achieve their goals, a concept that Sunny’s father called ROI (Return on Investment). Where will you need to invest time and energy in order to achieve your goals?
15. Sunny and Aurelia dance for patients in the hospital to cheer them up. What are some of your special talents? Can you think of a way that you could use your talents to give back and help others in some way?
16. One of the motifs in Sunny is the armless statue. Why do you think Darryl finds it so difficult to physically touch his son? When he finally does hold Sunny, Sunny writes that they are “Ships, finally docked in the night.” What do you think this metaphor means?
17. Another motif in Sunny is the idea of not being able to breathe. What do you think breathing symbolizes in the book? Look at all the times that Sunny struggles to breathe. In each case, what helps him to feel better?
1. In his own quiet way, Darryl uses puzzles made out of photographs of Sunny’s mother to share memories of his wife with his son. Share some of your favorite photographs of yourself and your family, either digitally or in a scrapbook. Include the stories behind the photos that you chose.
2. Throughout the novel, Jason Reynolds uses poetic devices like onomatopoeia, similes, metaphors, and alliteration to tell Sunny’s story. Find examples of poetic devices in the novel, and then try writing your own story or journal entries incorporating some of those same poetic devices.
3. Baraka, the movie that Sunny sees with Aurelia, is a real film. As a class, watch the movie and then discuss your own thoughts and feelings about it. Why do you think this film made such an impression on Sunny?
4. Sunny captures the sounds of life and movement of dance using language. Research the movement known as Jazz poetry, especially the poetry of Langston Hughes, to find examples of the way that language can capture the rhythm, movement, and sound of music and life. Write your own poem in this style. You might consider describing a sport, dance, or even a school bus ride or other crowded place.
5. Read one or more of the other books in Jason Reynolds’s Track series, and then try writing a response to the events in Sunny from another character’s point of view. What would they think about Sunny’s decisions?
6. In one of his diary entries, Sunny uses an outline, chart, and graph to illustrate how he feels. Try making a series of infographics about yourself.
7. When Aurelia begins teaching Sunny to dance, she mentions Alvin Ailey. Research Alvin Ailey and watch videos of some of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s performances. What was revolutionary about Alvin Ailey? Like all art forms, dance can serve many purposes: to entertain, to inform, to express emotion, and even to protest or raise awareness. Research another dance movement or dancer who revolutionized dance in some way, and share your findings with your class.
Guide prepared by Amy Jurskis, English Department Chair at Oxbridge Academy in Florida.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Jason Reynolds is a New York Times bestselling author, a Newbery Award Honoree, a Printz Award Honoree, National Book Award Honoree, a Kirkus Award winner, a two-time Walter Dean Myers Award winner, an NAACP Image Award Winner, and the recipient of multiple Coretta Scott King honors. The American Booksellers Association’s 2017 and 2018 spokesperson for Indies First, his many books include When I Was the Greatest, The Boy in the Black Suit, All American Boys (cowritten with Brendan Kiely), As Brave as You, For Every One, the Track series (Ghost, Patina, Sunny, and Lu), and Long Way Down, which received both a Newbery Honor and a Printz Honor. He lives in Washington, DC. You can find his ramblings at JasonWritesBooks.com.
Sunny Lancaster is a home-schooled almost-13-year-old torn between duty to run and passion for dance in the latest compulsively readable installment of Reynolds' lauded Track series. On the surface, African-American Sunny appears to have a wealthy, comfortable life that his less-fortunate teammates on the Defenders cannot help but envy. Privilege, however, cannot hide pain, and Sunny feels smothered by guilt over his mother's death immediately after his birth and crushed beneath the weight of his father's expectations for him to become the marathon runner that his beloved mother no longer can be. Once again, Reynolds cements his reputation as a distinguished chronicler of the adolescent condition by presenting readers with a winsome-yet-complex character whose voice feels as fresh as it is distinctive, spontaneously breaking out into onomatopoeic riffs that underscore his sense of music and rhythm. Living in an empty house with colorless walls and unfulfilled familial expectations cannot dim the effervescent nature of a protagonist who names his diary to make it feel more personal, employs charts and graphs to help him find the bravery to forge his own path as a discus-throwing dancer, and finds artistic inspiration in the musical West Side Story. Defenders introduced in earlier novels receive scant treatment, but new characters, such as Sunny's blue-haired teacher/dance instructor, Aurelia, are vibrant and three-dimensional. Main characters' races are not explicitly mentioned, implying a black default. Another literary pacesetter that will leave Reynolds' readers wanting more. (Fiction. 10-14)
– Kirkus STARRED REVIEW, 4/15/18
Sunny is one of the best runners you have ever seen. But the problem, see, is that he doesn’t want to run. His mother was a runner, and after she died giving birth to him, his father Darryl decided that Sunny would run to carry on the legacy. But if you carry anything long enough, you begin to stagger under its weight. What Sunny really wants to do is dance. He and his home-school teacher—a colored-haired, tattooed woman named Aurelia—dance for the cancer ward patrons at a local hospital. Coach even lets him quit running and starts giving him one-on-one discus lessons, which feels a lot like dancing. But Darryl thinks Sunny is betraying his mother’s memory. Reynolds again uses his entrancing grasp of voice to pull readers into the heartbreaking world of the Track series. Sunny’s voice is deliberately more scattered and onomatopoetic than the series’ prior narrators, and there’s a musicality to the text, with words like “tickboom” and “hunger-growl.“ As with Ghost (2016)and Patina (2017), this book functions equally well as a standalone—in this case, a boy with rhythm flowing deeply through his bones—while also continuing to deepen the world of this inner-city middle-school track team. This series continues to provide beautiful opportunities for discussion about viewpoint, privilege, loss, diversity of experience, and exactly how much we don’t know about those around us. — Becca Worthington
– Booklist *STARRED REVIEW*, May 1, 2018
Sunny is deeply dissatisfied with his performance on the Defenders track team. He always wins, nobody cares much about the mile race until its closing seconds, and besides, he’d rather dance. Aurelia, the dear friend of Sunny’s deceased mother, recognizes this as she homeschools him, and she knows how rhythm, rhyme, grief, and misplaced guilt (his mother died giving birth to him) fill his mind and spill out in his movements. Darryl, Sunny’s father, doesn’t get it, though, and he’s completely thrown off when Sunny just stops in the middle of a race—to let someone else win for a change and to send out a cri de coeur. Coach then suggests he take a break from the mile and try discus throw, a field event whose graceful, disciplined spin and release might better suit Sunny. Book Three of Reynolds’ Track series, with its focus on individual players and their personal struggles, does not disappoint. Fans will settle easily into the balance between field action, teammate interrelationships, Coach’s understated but effective methodology, and the open-ended conclusion underscoring the message that win/loss is less important in these players’ lives than camaraderie and family reconciliation.
– BCCB, June 2018
As in Reynolds’s two previous novels in the Track series (Ghost, rev. 11/16; Patina, rev. 11/17), sports aren’t really the point here—certainly not for Sunny, the team’s best miler, who decides, just as he’s about to win a race, that he doesn’t want to be a runner and, in fact, never did. Coach’s subsequent suggestion that he take up the discus instead is cannily reflected in the novel’s structure, a series of diary entries that each spin around another incident or memory, cumulatively revealing the tragic origins of Sunny’s track career. The incantatory leanings of the prose sometimes tend toward repetitiveness, but the slow build of the story allows Sunny’s strengths and vulnerabilities to gain him a place in our hearts. When he finally throws the discus in competition—on the last page, no less—we are completely with him.