book review

Book Review: ‘Sunflowers in February’ by Phyllida Shrimpton

sunflowersinfeb

Sunflowers in February. Phyllida Shrimpton. Hot Key Books. February 2018.

Lily wakes up one crisp Sunday morning on the side of the road. 

She has no idea how she got there. It is all very peaceful. And very beautiful. It is only when the police car, and then the ambulance, arrive and she sees her own body that she realises that she is in fact . . . dead. 

But what is she supposed do now? 

Lily has no option but to follow her body and sees her family – her parents and her twin brother – start falling apart. And then her twin brother Ben gives her a once in a deathtime opportunity – to use his own body for a while. But will Lily give Ben his body back? She is beginning to have a rather good time . . .


Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

First of all, thank you so much to Hot Key Books for sending me a review copy of this book. My first ever physical book I have received from a publisher – I was so, so happy, and so, so grateful!

I was really intrigued to read this book because the premise really appealed to me. The story follows Lily, a fifteen year old girl who is killed in a hit and run accident. Instead of passing on, her spirit sticks around, and she can see everything her family and friends are going through in the wake of her death. But nobody seems to be able to see or hear her, apart from her twin brother Ben. Lily is desperate to live just a little bit more, so Ben agrees to let her use his body for a while, until she is ready to say goodbye to life and move on to whatever comes next.

There were a lot of things I enjoyed about this book, but it never really blew me away. I found all of Lily’s thought processes as she watches her family grieve very interesting. It’s almost as though she wants them to stay sad, and to not forget about her, which although sounds selfish, actually came across as very human to me. I also liked seeing Lily use Ben’s body to experience all of the everyday things like eating sweets and having a hot shower that she took for granted in life and misses. I appreciated the mindful way that Lily navigated the world once she knew that she only had a limited time left in it. I feel like we should all live our days this way, no matter how long we have left.

Another thing I found very interesting about the book are the perspectives we get from other characters as they react to Lily’s death, but in particular the perspective of the driver who hit her. We find out very early on who that is, although I am not going to spoil anything here. The grief of the driver, and their subsequent breakdown was done so well, and although they did wrong, I ended up feeling so sorry for this person, because their perspective was just heartbreaking to read.

What I didn’t love so much about this book was the characterisation. I didn’t feel like any of the characters really stood apart from each other. Even Lily herself was hard to fully connect to, because I never really got a sense of who she was in life, besides the fact that she liked sunflowers (which play a prominent part in her funeral). I understood how Lily felt about being robbed of her life, and I empathised with her realisations about all the things she took for granted whilst she was alive, but I had no idea who she was before she felt these things, before she died. I guess I could have done with more flashbacks, or at least memories tied in with what she was experiencing in the present.

The other thing I found a little lacking in this book was the plot. Like I said, I really enjoyed the concept, and seeing how Lily reacts to the situation she’s in, but beyond that I feel like not much happens in the book, and it did get a bit repetitive at times, as Lily spends a lot of time just doing normal things in Ben’s body.

Something I have mixed feelings about in this book is what it has to say about gender. Lily is using Ben’s body, so obviously she is a girl in a boy’s body, and it was interesting to see how this makes her feel, and see her empathising with how someone who is born into the wrong body might feel. However, where it went wrong for me is when we see Ben’s friends reacting to how he is acting (differently, obviously, because it’s Lily in there, not Ben). Lily has to play a football match in Ben’s body, and as someone who has never played before, she is naturally not very good at it. Fair enough in principle, but I feel like so much emphasis was put on the fact that Lily couldn’t do certain things because she was a girl, and Ben’s friends didn’t hesitate to point out how ‘girly’ ‘he’ was acting, which didn’t sit well with me. Also, when ‘Ben’ touches his friend’s arm, his friend questions why his friend has turned into an ‘overnight gay’. Maybe that’s how some straight teenage boys would react, I don’t know, but I just felt like using homophobia to illustrate that Ben was acting differently was unnecessary.

Overall, I did enjoy this book, and I felt like it explored some interesting thoughts and feelings on grief, however I didn’t fall in love with it the way I had hoped I would. It’s not a bad book by any means, it just had a few problems. I enjoyed the author’s writing style, and this is a debut, so I’ll certainly look out for further books she writes in the future.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: ‘Sunflowers in February’ by Phyllida Shrimpton”

  1. Your thoughts on this novel were really interesting to read. I like how you outlined what you liked and didn’t like about certain aspects of the novel. I think the way perspective is used in a book like this is very important but because the characters weren’t very well developed it seems like this could limit the strength of the perspectives. Although I haven’t read the book, I do think your point on the issue of gender and how the author approached these themes is quite troubling. Great review.

    1. Thank you! Yeah I did find the way gender was approached a bit disappointing. I think this book had such a great concept, it just felt kind of underdeveloped to me!

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