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South of Sunshine

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What is Kaycee willing to risk for the sake of love?
And what will she risk for acceptance?

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.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published April 1, 2016

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About the author

Dana Elmendorf

1 book82 followers
Born and raised in small town in Tennessee, Dana now lives in southern California with her husband, two boys and her tiny dog. When she isn't exercising, she can be found geeking out with Mother Nature. After her family’s needs are met, you can find her dreaming up contemporary YA romances with plenty of kissing. Author of SOUTH OF SUNSHINE.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 169 reviews
Profile Image for Lo.
361 reviews57 followers
July 2, 2017

(warnings for homophobia/suicide)

So apparently i have to scream this again but: STOP calling gay people cowards!!!!!!!! stop having them call themselves cowards!!!!!!!! stop having them call each other cowards!!!!!!! why are you doing this?????


Anyway, this was worse than everything previously read somehow. The warning signs were all there in the first chapters but i chose to let it go because i thought it was still gonna be a cute lesbian romance (because i never learn!!!! or something. but i will now) and anyway it was fine for the first half of the book. still annoying but at least they were kissing and i had hope that it was gonna stay at least a little cute.

ok let me you put this all in context: this girl who's gay has been trying to hide it her whole life because as it happens she lives in a town where everyone is disgusting and they hate you if you're not white and straight and rich. so i mean, this is great. why choose this as a setting for a girl/girl romance i sure would like to understand. anyway she meets this girl who's hot so she likes her and as it turns out the girl likes her back and after a few weeks of pretending nothing is happening they start dating secretly! so far so good. her best friend still makes weird comments about this like "when we grow up we'll be leaving in two farms next to each other with our beautiful husbands" okkkkkkkkkk girl.

after all this you can tell inevitably it's all going to hell (when doesn't it???) and when it does you literally get it all
- "am i going to burn in hell? does god hate me" the girl asks after the priest says gay people aren't going into the kingdom of heaven or whatever. cool !
- the inevitable Straight Best Friend Catches Not-Straight Best Friend Making Out With Her Girlfriend : horror ensues
- straight best friend says : "how could you do this to me?" because it's all about you !!!!!
- gay best friend says she will never do it again ! in front of her girlfriend !!!! ok !!!! WHY
- luckily this happened during the weekend so she can have a saturday night out! with her other best friend, who magically happens to be a gay guy !
- and what do we have here ? the classic, timeless Homophobic Insults At A Bar where this piece of shit guy basically tell them they're disgusting and they're all going to hell or whatever shit. and while the level of Necessary Homophobia Experienced By Characters varies from book to book, there's always this random person telling you you're disgusting. IN EVERY BOOK!!!! thanks for that!!!!! especially makes feel your readers feel good too, in case they weren't already disgusted by this point. and even if they weren't, they're going to be, because! it gets worse!
- straight best friend and her straight boyfriend then basically out her to everyone at school because her life isn't shit enough already
- people talk about her in the toilets while she's listening "we don't need lesbians shoved down our throats at homecoming" CALM THE FUCK DOWN, STRAIGHTY
- her gay friend blames her for crying alone in the toilets on this super shit day of all her life.
- ???????????????????????????
- "at least i'm not hiding" he says
- because, yes, gay people blame each other for not coming out ALL THE TIME!!!!!!!! we in fact do have coming out competitions, winner gets Homophobic Insults On A Daily Basis Because Everyone Is Trash and loser gets called a coward!!!! NICE.
- after which the girls runs away from school and disappears the rest of a day
- Everyone Assumes The Worst
- straight best friend : "i thought you'd killed yourself because you're gay"
- me: akz^dùs;^pfùl:sd^fkdfo^q;lsdùpfdgpo^qsld^pkp^sql^gkf^sdl^fdlsk^
- they're all home with her mother not speaking a word to her and people church being brought over
- You're Gonna Go To Gay Camp
- of course!!!!! at this point i'm just guessing the author was like "if you're all in, go all in" i mean yes. the threat of going to camp to become ungay is always such a pleasure to read
- "you'll get fixed and everything will get back to normal" (straight best friend)
- and because it never ends
- she stumbles on a nice conversation:
- "We'll run all the gays out of town"

This all happens at like 80% of the book of course so you can already tell you're in for Everything's Gonna Get Fixed Magically !
It does !
- The Mother : i thought they were gonna kill you because you're gay so i didn't want you to be. but i still love you..... even though you're gay....... Look What A Great Straight I Am (the girl buys this of course)
- Straight Best Friend : I can't believe you thought i was homophobic (the girl has been talking homophobic nonsense literally since the book started) !! I'm Actually Very Open To Gay People I Was Just Scared That You Would Hit On Me And That It Would Ruin Our Friendship (LEGIT) (the girl also buys this !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! unbelievable.)
- despite all these nice words tho they both still expect her to go to the camp LMAO. nice acceptance you've got there
- but then it even gets better! all the Accepting Straights decide to fight back against the town !!!!!! they basically have a gay parade! !!! some beautifully Supportive Straights even paint RAINBOWS on their front doors!!!!!!!!! wow !!!!!!!!!!!!!! i mean honestly. and the girl is happy because people she loves accept her. her straight best friend even breaks up with her straight boyfriend !!!! imagine that!!!!
- then her girlfriend who was missing the whole time comes back and they get back together in 5 seconds and then everyone is happy
- ?????????????????????????????????????
- Straight Person Writes A Same-Sex Romance : You'll Get Basically Everyone Possible Offensive And Homophobic Shit Thrown At You But You'll Be Happy!

I don't know what else to say but I'm really tired of this (in case that wasn't clear lmao). I don't want go all "we deserve better!" but we deserve better! You might feel proud of yourself because you made them happy instead of them being Tragic And Dead but at this point one might wonder what's actually the better alternative.

Don't read this book.

Profile Image for charlotte,.
3,124 reviews816 followers
January 11, 2019

will I ever not be angry about this book?

How do you expect anyone to accept you if you can't accept yourself?

Galley provided by publisher.

Rep: lesbian mcs, gay side character, female bi side character

You know how, when you're watching a crap TV show, one of those ones that's horrifyingly bad - so bad you just want to cover your eyes and ears and stop watching, but it's compellingly horrifying. It's like a train wreck or a car crash, you're fixated on how badly everything is going wrong. That's me with this book.

I had high hopes. The synopsis reminded me a lot of The Miseducation of Cameron Post which is one of my all time favourites. Unfortunately, that didn't hold up.

Within the first few pages I had issues with this book. The majority of the characters were racist as hell, which I know is to show that they're backwards types and bigots, but that the main character hardly called them out on it was probably the first sign that I might not enjoy this book. Honestly, that was enough to have me almost (almost) DNF-ing this one. But I don't like DNF-ing books - I only do it when I really really can't stand it - so I continued reading.

And then I got to the slutshaming and biphobia.

There is one character in the book called Chelsea, who's nickname is "Chesty" because, guess what, she has big boobs and she uses them when she's flirting with people (which is apparently a lot). And this makes her a "slut" (a word that is even used to describe her at one point. I can't believe that in 2016 I am reading a book where the word "slut" is used. I thought we were passed this, but apparently not). She even gets this memorable quote:

It's ridiculous how she just throws herself on Bren.

And to top it all off, this is the bisexual character. Because clearly bisexuals are always flirting with everyone in sight and "throwing" themselves at people. I call biphobia.

(Also around this point, was the scene where one character gets the other to say "I'm gay and I'm proud" in order to get themselves comfortable with being gay. Because saying those words is a surefire way to get rid of all that internalised homophobia and self-hatred that comes from living in a town of homophobic, racist bigots.)

Then there was a great scene where the main character goes around her room, labelling things as marking whether they make her seem girly or boyish. Funny, I didn't realise inanimate objects were gendered. I mean, Plum purple duvet. Girl. Blue walls. Boy. What on earth?

At this point, I have to admit, I got tired and started skim reading so I could just reach the damn end already.

There was a point where the main character said about the girlfriend, heck, I might even be in love with her. You've known her for a month, maybe two, and you think you're in love. Instalove much? (I cannot stand instalove. It is one of my biggest gripes about YA, the number of times you have instalove instead of proper development of a relationship.)

Next there's this wonderful scene where, after she's screwed up her relationship with the girlfriend because, when they got caught making out (cliche much?), she bluffed it and said it didn't mean anything and she doesn't care, she takes it out on her best friend, who convinced her to roll with all this in the first place (the same one with the "I'm gay and I'm proud" catchphrase). And this is where I had a pretty major rant on Twitter, not gonna lie. Basically, he tells her to be proud about her gayness and own it, and she accuses him of not doing the same.

The problem I had was that that's not true. He might not be as out and proud as she kind of expects, but he never hides his gayness - unlike her with her dating boys (a bit hypocritical, don't you think) - he dates boys, and he doesn't go around shrugging off being found kissing another guy as not caring about the person (ha ha, it was all a joke, right guys?). And you can't fault him for some self-preservation when he's growing up in a bigoted and homophobic town (seriously, one of the characters comments about running all the gay people out of town to make it safe for their kids. What, did you think he'd go around advertising his sexuality?). He is out to them, but out in a way that he can deny and so be safe (which. Ya know. Ideal.) and that makes sense in this situation, but she's chewing him out for it and I got annoyed.

Then she goes and outs him to the school. And in doing so, says he can be the "next gay target". That is not cool. I get that she's angry, but doesn't she even think that maybe this isn't a good idea? Apparently not, because later on she comments It wouldn't do any good to out her [the bi character]. She would keep hiding like a coward. First off, if you're calling hiding your sexuality in a homophobic town cowardice, then aren't you no better off than this character? And secondly, you obviously haven't learned from your outing of your (ex, at this point) best friend. She has no qualms about outing this girl she hates, but she happily confesses to being wrong about outing her best friend, and apologises easily (though if I were her best friend I would not have forgiven her so quickly, if at all).

There's also a part where she's sad because she's lost all her friends. Well, who's fault is that? One, you drove away because you kept a huge secret from her. Two, you drove away when you outed him. Three, you drove away when you claimed that it meant nothing when you kissed her and you just brushed it off. Sorry, but you'll find no sympathy here.

My final point is back with the non-white characters (which there are three of who get names, and I guess more who don't but anyway). Right at the beginning, they get a cursory description (which seemed solely to the purpose of showing that these aren't gross stereotypes of non-white characters, but didn't do much more) and they showed up once (to show how gross and racist some of the kids were), and then they disappeared until the end. At which point, lo and behold, they show up for the sole purpose of supporting the LBGT+ characters in their quest for... being able to steal the float so they can paint it as a rainbow and turn the parade into a miniature Pride.

I'm starting to think I should have just DNF-ed when I had the chance.
Profile Image for Sarah Elizabeth.
4,723 reviews1,278 followers
February 2, 2016
(Source: I received a digital copy of this book for free on a read-to-review basis. Thanks to Albert Whitman & Company and NetGalley.)

“What I want is for Bren to press her lips against mine. To see if kissing her is different than kissing the boys I’ve been with.”

This was an okay story, but the pace was a little slow for me.

Kaycee was an okay character, and it was regretful the way she felt she had to hide who she was because the people of her town didn’t agree with people being gay.

The storyline in this was about the romance between Kaycee and Bren, and the way the rest of the town turned against them once they realised that there was more than just friendship between them. It kind-of annoyed me how homophobic the town was, and it didn’t seem fair the way Kaycee and Bren were targeted.
There was some romance in this, but it did take a while to happen, and the slow pace made the book drag a bit for me.

The ending to this was fairly happy, and I was pleased that Kaycee and Bren found themselves in a not-quite-so-difficult situation.

6 out of 10
Profile Image for Dana Elmendorf.
Author 1 book82 followers
June 27, 2018
SOUTH OF SUNSHINE made the list!
Pride.com: “10 Lesbian YA novels you'll totally love!"
Teen.com: “13 YA Books Amazing Lesbian Lead Character...”
Barnes and Noble: 15 of Our Most Anticipated LGBTQ YAs of 2016

"A compelling portrait of a small-town teen learning that she doesn’t have to choose between loving her roots and loving who she really is."—Booklist

"The tumultuous coming out and secret romance with Bren will resonate with readers, as will the effects on the teen’s friendships. The setting is fully realized, establishing a familiar backdrop for the realistic and unsettling bigotry of the town."—School Library Journal

Check out these wonderful author blurbs for SOUTH OF SUNSHINE:

"Dana Elmendorf is a rich, new voice in contemporary fiction. This touching love story takes an earnest look at the courage it takes to love who you love. Adorable, y'all."—Robin Mellom, author of Ditched: A Love Story

“Equal parts sweet and sassy, South of Sunshine explores the struggles and triumphs of self-discovery and first love with a heap of Southern charm.”—Jessica Love, co-author of Push Girl

So um, yeah...I give my book five stars. Does any author not? Or maybe I wasn't supposed to star it? Oh heck, what do I care. I'm proud of my work, as every author should be. I have a special love for this book. I hope you do too. :)
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,260 reviews222 followers
May 30, 2016
Kaycee is a high school senior living in rural Tennessee. She's also a lesbian, but so deep in the closet that she can't even say the word out loud, and she's been dating boys as a cover. Then a new girl shows up at school and Kaycee is consumed by her attraction to her.

I wasn't going to write a review of this one. For one, I'm ancient, heterosexual and male and I have no experience with either the US or this part of it in particular. To have comments on these subjects kind of goes beyond privilege to expressing opinion from a position of ignorance. However, being ancient and male, it is in the long-standing tradition of my people that I proceed. Let the mansplaining commence.

So why am I writing this? Mainly because some of the higher rated reviews on this book seem to be spectacularly missing the point, in my opinion.

In one case we have a reviewer lamenting that this town is a poor choice of location for a "sweet lesbian romance". As if any town in rural Tennessee would be any different. Statewide, over 80% of people acknowledge as Christian and majority of those as conservative protestants, and in rural areas that percentage would be much higher. So maybe not a great choice of location for the book the reviewer was looking for, but as a location for a book that looks at the very real situation that many LGBTIQ youth are facing still, even after same-sex marriage has been legalized, it's very appropriate. In short, this is a book about being LGBTIQ in a part of the country that is still mostly actively hostile to that. The romance plot takes a back seat to the coming out plot.

In several reviews we see the author and character being criticized because of "slut-shaming". Yes, you shouldn't slut-shame. It's misogynist and wrong, and it sends all the wrong messages to both young women and men. It's also ubiquitous and the hyper-connectedness of today's teenagers makes these sort of inter-group judgemental behaviors even more prominent. To have a promiscuous female character who isn't being "slut-shamed" to some extent would be idealistic.

However, in the case of the two people that Kaycee is being accused by reviewers of slut-shaming, one is Charlotte, who's an out lesbian who Kaycee doesn't want to be like because both Charlotte and her girlfriend are social outcasts (nothing to do with being "sluts"; everything to do with being lesbian in this town). The other is Chelsea ("Chesty") who Kaycee is fairly ambivalent about until she hits on Kaycee's crush, and then the claws come out. She's jealous, and the jealousy clearly goes both ways when Chelsea turns on Kaycee once the relationship between Kaycee and Bren is suspected. There's even an accusation of biphobia. Yes, biphobia is a real thing. However, you can dislike a bisexual character for other reasons, including that she's hitting on the object of your crush.

And then there's complaints about Kaycee and Van, her gay friend, calling each other cowards. Kaycee is closeted, and Van is flying under the radar. He goes out of town for dates. Both of these positions are hardly "cowardly" positions for where they live and who they live with; they're sensible survival strategies. Kaycee in particular is religious and goes to a Baptist church, complete with the casual anti-gay messages that this comes with. Her mother is also not only religious, but hyper-sensitive about fitting in, which again, is entirely sensible as a small business owner and single mother. Both of these characters might feel cowardly to an extent, but circumstances make being out and proud really dangerous. Calling each other cowards says more about how they feel about their own positions than it reflects the truth about each other.

There's also some commentary about "instalove". It's hardly that. Kaycee has a crush. Bren notices her crush. This happens over weeks.

There's lots more to say about this book. Certainly Kaycee's reaction to her relationship with Bren being exposed is very poor. It's also very real for someone this closeted and conflicted. And the reaction of her mother completely justifies her being closeted and conflicted to that point. The way Kaycee treats both Bren and Van when this happens is also not great, but it's a believable set of emotions. And her world is pretty much ending; it would be unrealistic if she'd been reading off the Miss Manners Guide to How to Treat Your Friends and Family When You've Been Publicly Outed.

There's also the hints that Kaycee's friend Sarabeth, Kaycee's mother and the school librarian all drop to Kaycee. They all seem to suspect that Kaycee is a lesbian and the first two drop hints that she shouldn't "choose" that path, and the librarian feels quietly supportive. Sarabeth's reaction appears mostly to be hurt feelings.

Anyway, I really liked this book. As a story about coming out in an intolerant environment and how those environments are slowly changing, I think it was great and had a mostly hopeful message.
Profile Image for Christina (A Reader of Fictions).
4,230 reviews1,650 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
August 16, 2016
Pages read: 9

This is a book where the quotes can really speak for themselves. All of this happened during the first chapter, which was only 9 pages long.

I’m being dumped for Chelsea Hannigan— tiny tank top Chesty Hannigan.

Cool. Some casual girl hate, because girls with big breasts are the worst amirite? (No, MC, you are not right.)
If we’re talking, say, Becky Staggs— who has kissed every guy this side of the Mississippi—then my liplocking would be a drop in the bucket.

Here's where she levels up to overt slut-shaming. All while talking about how many boys she's kissed but obviously none of this would come back on her, because she's the MC.
“You’re such an eavesdrop whore.”

This is how she talks to her best friend.
Where plaid shirts, jean overalls, and muddy waders were our wardrobe of choice. That is, until one kiss from a cute farm boy at eleven— after that it was dresses and pink for Sarabeth.

This is how she thinks about her best friend. On Wednesdays, straight girls where pink. Lesbians wear shorts. Duh.
“Oh, so she can wear your hoochiemomma hot pink pumps and sink her heels into the cow pasture?”

Just in case we didn't know that it was slutty to where hot pink high heels, it is.

“I hear she’s like an Amazon,” says one of the plaid cows.
“A Brazilian Amazon, if you like them slightly browned.

So yeah, I think you can see why I don't want to touch this book anymore.
Profile Image for Tiff.
385 reviews184 followers
December 7, 2015
Kaycee McCoy is a senior high school student in a small town in rural Tennessee. Kaycee has been kissed by a lot of boys, but it just doesn’t do anything but gross her out. She literally was happy to be dumped by her last boyfriend. Everything changes when a new girl shows up on the first day of senior year.

Bren Dawson is tall, athletic and has no problem making new friends at her new school. She hails from Boston, and has no problem being who she is, an out and proud. Bren brings up all the feelings and desires Kaycee has been repressing for quite a while. She grew up in Sunshine, Tennessee which is definitely not a bastion of equality and understanding. The only thing is a relationship with Bren is too tempting for Kaycee to deny.

This is an emotional coming of age tale. This story takes you through Kaycee’s journey of first love, admitting who you are, and the fall out of living in a in a society that is pressuring you into who you love. South of Sunshine is a well written YA novel. You will find in full of teen aged angst and coming to terms with being gay in a small southern town. It is also a story of friendship, and how those friendships evolve as real issues are brought to the forefront of their lives. I must say I liked this book, and Kaycee is a pretty cool character.
Profile Image for Marie.
540 reviews44 followers
May 29, 2017
So this was casually racist and biphobic all the while trying to get across the message that it's ok to be gay and ALSO try to shove your semi-closeted gay friend out of the closet in a dangerously conservative town that LITERALLY STILL PRACTICES SEGREGATION.

A very generous two stars. That was fucking painful.

fuck that it's one stars fuck this book
Profile Image for Ylenia.
1,055 reviews387 followers
January 10, 2020
*ARC / review copy provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, thanks again*

This book had a lot of problems; it's not important that it's diverse, that we rarely read about lesbian couples in YA... if it's bad, it's bad.
Profile Image for Pippa D.
222 reviews14 followers
December 30, 2015
Kaycee Jean McCoy is over dating boys, but knows it is the best way of hiding in plain sight in Sunshine, Tennessee. Her best friend, Van, is gay and everyone knows it, but so long as no one mentions it, everyone can pretend otherwise. Her other best friend, Sarabeth, has been happily dating one of the star footballers for the last two years. Theirs is a tight group of friends in a town where the biggest events are listed on the church calendar.

Bren Dawson, the new girl in the school, is exotic, smart, tall, and on a basketball scholarship. Most of the school is enamoured of Bren, none more so than Kaycee. In a town that is largely run by the church, falling in love with a female classmate is the worst thing she can do.

This is a coming of age tale, well written by Elmendorf. The fluctuating emotions and heightened feelings of Kaycee’s first love, and fear of losing her mum, her friends, and her future are all well described. There is more than a hint of the believable on the pages, and I suspect this will be avidly read and reread by teens struggling to come out in fear-ridden towns.

Realistic about the difficulties of homophobia in parts, there is a fundamental seam of hope running through the book that provides a breath of air in what could have been claustrophobic and oppressive. I really liked the characters, and the way the story gave room for Kaycee to grow into her strengths, and accept love and support from some surprising characters. This is a well-written blend of some of the difficulties and the joys of being LGBTQI in a small town.

Early edition provided by Netgalley for review.
Profile Image for Jodi Meadows.
Author 31 books4,629 followers
January 10, 2016
If you've ever wondered where are all the coming out stories about girls -- here's a good one!
Profile Image for Claire (Book Blog Bird).
1,053 reviews38 followers
May 24, 2016
This was quite a sweet story about a girl finally admitting to herself (and to the fellow residents of her small Tennessee town) that she is gay.

Sadly, in Sunshine, Tennessee, gay isn't an option, so Kaycee tries to fit in by having a boyfriend she detests kissing and not admitting to anyone, least of all herself, that she really likes girls. Then a new girl starts at her school and everything goes kind of right and then pretty wrong.

So I should probably start off by saying that I'm British and as such the only things I see about homophobia and hate crimes in America are filtered through the lens of the media. God knows, we don't exactly live in an ivory tower here in the UK as far as bigotry is concerned, but it sounds like if you live in Sunshine, Tennessee and you're gay then it must be an absolute bloody nightmare! Kaycee and her mother attend this church that basically sounds like the Westboro Baptist Church - all God Hates Fags and hellfire and damnation. Her mother isn't much comfort either - she completely buys into the church's teachings and is terrified that her daughter will show her up. The kids at Kaycee's school seem to take after their parents with their bigoted attitudes, too.

I liked Kaycee and felt genuinely sorry for her and the turmoil she was going through and while there were plenty of times where I wanted her to grow a pair and stand up to her friends and the other townsfolk, I could see why this was difficult. The relationship between her and Bren was very sweet and the difficulties they faced as Kaycee tried to accept who she was but also hide from everyone else were pretty heartbreaking.

There were points where I thought the pacing slowed down quite a lot. We got a lot of internal monologue, which I get is important because of all the stuff Kaycee is going through, but I wanted there to be some action in there as well. I thought that there needed to be more tension in the plot. There were lots of opportunities for tension - the threat of sending Kaycee to gay conversion therapy, the conflict between her faith and her sexuality - and I think they needed to be explored more.

The ending was very sweet and I was glad Kaycee got an HEA, but it did seem like many of the previously-bigoted townsfolk and students changed their views pretty darn quick at the end (although I did love the finale with the float - it sounded awesome).
Profile Image for Robin Reul.
Author 2 books166 followers
March 28, 2016
Five words: This book is so freakin' good. Dana Elmendorf has completely nailed the voice of her MC Kaycee and through it transports the reader into her small town, narrow-minded world filled with intolerance and unacceptance. Rich characterization, fantastic dialogue, and a realistic slow burn romance will have readers turning the pages. It's a novel about owning who you are, and it delivers.
Profile Image for Miranda.
512 reviews118 followers
Shelved as 'did-not-finish'
October 10, 2016
Yeah, never mind. Rampant slut-shaming and another fashion obsessed, sassy gay man side character. And you can tell this is written by a straight woman.

Reading other reviews tells me it only gets worse, so nah, I'm out.
Profile Image for Abbie.
1,976 reviews582 followers
February 2, 2016
(I received a copy from Netgalley, In exchange for an honest review.)

Actual rating - 3.5

Kaycee was an okay character. I felt quite sorry for her at times because of the way she was being treated.

The pacing in this was a tad too slow for me, so the book felt longer than what it was. It was an enjoyable read overall though.

Profile Image for Rajesh Bookrider.
45 reviews3 followers
September 20, 2018
“I’m holding your hand, Bren. It’s not like we’re making out. Besides, cat’s out of the bag now. No sense hiding.

Kaycee Jean McCoy is main character in this book who fall in love with a beautiful cool girl Bren Dawson.
Kaycee knows she is lesbian but she denied, try to hide.
This book is all about acceptance who really you are.

I gave it ⭐⭐ stars
Because this book did keep me on to read
I abandoned 2 times because I got bored
And some character doesn't make sense what they are talking about.
Profile Image for Chasia Lloyd.
699 reviews58 followers
February 13, 2016
Yayyyyy coming out F/F stories that deal with homophobia and tackle a little bit of racism too!

I'm not being sarcastic, this was seriously good.

Set in a small town in Tennessee, our main character Kaycee is deep in the closet. She shares disgusting kisses with boys and refuses to say the L-word in order to keep the illusion of heterosexuality. One of her best friends is gay, but they don't voice his sexuality either.

Then an outsider from Boston gets transferred to Sunshine and shakes things up, including Kaycee's heart. Bren is an easygoing, friendly basketball player who doesn't care about sitting with black people at lunch or hiding her own homosexuality.

The town of Sunshine is a hivemind of homophobia and racism. Kaycee plays the role of a girl she's not because everyone around her expects her to fall into their line of Bible-thumping heterosexuality. Bren doesn't mind hiding their budding relationship, but everyone has a breaking point...

Lots of important topics get brought up through this book. I don't feel they all got unpacked properly, but maybe there is just enough to get readers thinking. I wasn't thrilled with Chelsea's storyline, as the only character who is promiscuous and slut-shamed is also the only one who seems to be bisexual, but I did appreciate some aspects to it.

The voice is great in this book. I'm critical of any book set in Tennessee, but the author really made people's dialogue and mannerisms authentic. I died laughing over the "eat up" scene.

To sum up, South of Sunshine is definitely going to be an important book. And it has a lot of fun and sweet moments too.

***e-ARC provided by NetGalley***
Profile Image for Rahul Kanakia.
Author 30 books197 followers
June 8, 2019
Liked this quite a bit! I thought he setting was really what sold it. Was a lush description of small town Tennessee, and I loved all the shades of queer life in the town. It was a nuanced look at where gay life is in 2015 in parts of the country. It's not exactly like it is New York, but it's also not exactly the fifties or even the eighties. It's its own thing. Anyway, I enjoyed reading about Kaycee's journey, and if you like LGBT romances I'm sure you will too.

I got an advance copy of this book from the author, but there was no expectation that I'd leave a review.
Profile Image for Melissa Gorzelanczyk.
Author 2 books158 followers
January 28, 2016

"A blanket and a boyfriend--or a girlfriend if that's the case--are the only two things you need on a hayride."
Profile Image for Suze.
1,878 reviews1,310 followers
December 26, 2016
Kaycee lives in Sunshine, an old-fashioned and strictly religious town. Everyone goes to the football match on Friday and to church on Sunday. Kaycee's best friend dreams of a simple life for both of them together with their future husbands who are of course also friends. Kaycee tries to find a boy she likes, but dating has proven to be disastrous so far. She has to keep this up until she can go to college, her ticket out of the town.

When Bren starts at Kaycee's high school she immediately makes a lot of new friends. Bren is easy to get along with. Even though Kaycee is scared of Bren she lets herself come closer, because she feels drawn to her. When she and Bren start seeing each other regularly Kaycee doesn't say anything to her mother or her best friend. Bren might have no problems being herself, but for Kaycee things are different as she knows there will be repercussions. When she threatens to lose everything she holds dear she doesn't have a choice any longer and she has to stand up for herself and everyone else in Sunshine who isn't allowed to be with the person they love.

South of Sunshine is a beautiful story about a girl who's gay in a world where she can't openly be who she is. I felt bad for Kaycee because she has to hide such an important part of herself. Fortunately she has someone she can talk to, a friend who will always have her back. Their conversations are meaningful and interesting, but they also have a lot of fun together. Dana Elmendorf has a great way of writing about friendships. Everything in her story feels really natural, it has a laidback kind of charm which I liked very much.

Kaycee and Bren are really sweet together and they have great chemistry. It was obvious from the beginning that they would be a wonderful couple. I love how Dana Elmendorf describes their connection. They aren't only in love, they are also good friends. Because it's so obvious what they feel for one another Kaycee can't hide their relationship forever and when it comes out things start to unravel. Dana Elmendorf keeps the events realistic, nothing is over the stop and everything stays completely believable. It's something I liked a lot, because it makes the story feel genuine.

South of Sunshine is a quick and easy read with an important topic. It's a good combination as it means the reader can completely focus on the story. Dana Elmendorf has an important message to share and I love the theme of her book. Kaycee is a great and likable main character, so it was easy to care about what happened to her. South of Sunshine is an amazing moving story and I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Kelley O'Brien.
26 reviews5 followers
December 15, 2015
Review of South of Sunshine also on my blog.


Lately, I haven’t read too much young adult. It’s a shame, and something I need to rectify, because there are, as there’s always been, some amazing literature in the genre. Dana Elmendorf’s South of Sunshine easily fits in with some of the greats.

The novel follows the daughter of a single mother, Kaycee, who struggles with her sexuality and falling in love for the first time in the small town of Sunshine, Tennessee.

There are many aspects I liked about the novel, but the strongest part was the way Elmendorf doesn’t sugarcoat life for lgbtqia people in a small southern town. Kaycee herself is religious and gay, so it was refreshing to see that there was no either/or that comes up often in pop culture. While I’m not religious myself, I’m glad this had a prominent place in the book because many lgbtqia people struggle with it in real life.

The promiscuous bisexual trope from a minor character was disheartening to read, especially since the character never had a chance to grow or defend herself. I also wanted the parallel between Kaycee being a lesbian to be drawn a bit tighter to other students who are outcasts in Sunshine due to their sexuality, race, or economic standing. Particularly because Bren, the main love interest is both gay and a woman of color, while being from one of the wealthier families in town.

Bren and Kaycee’s friend Van were wonderful to read, along with her best friend Sarabeth’s personal character growth.

Kaycee’s back and forth between being proud and being ashamed of being gay felt very natural to me because it echoed my own life and it probably relatable to a lot of lgbtqia teens. Her difficulties with family, friends, and society were nuanced and heartbreaking. There were a few characters I didn’t want to forgive, and yet by the end of the book, I found myself in tears from Elmendorf’s writing. It’s been a while since a book made me cry like that.

Readers should be warned about some discussion of conversion therapy and corrective rape. Thankfully, neither of them actually happen.

Though this book isn’t due out for a few months, I wanted to post this review now, mostly so I wouldn’t forget details about the wonderful book I just finished, but also so everyone has the chance to add it to their reading lists.

I received a copy from Netgally in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for M.
675 reviews31 followers
January 9, 2016
This book is going to matter, and it's going to matter a lot.

I can already see the people getting frustrated about "instalove" because it's hip and cool to dismiss a book in that way. But it's not love that hits Kaycee, it's infatuation, a crush that's bigger than she is, and the undeniable mix of hormones, fear, and "oh my god I want to kiss her."

Kaycee has been pretending to date boys to stay under the radar in her small backwater town full of gossips and anger. But when Bren and her family come to town, she grapples with a reality she can't ignore: she's gay, and she's not quite proud yet, but she'll probably get there, and her friend Van, who is gay but doesn't talk about it much, is there to help her. Begrudgingly.

Big crushes take over our heads and hearts and Bren and Kaycee are sweet and like each other--and they TALK! They get to know each other, they share their experiences and they support each other through the gossip and whispering of a town full of people who, when they find out there's omg THOSE people around, declare they must run everyone like that out of town.

They live in the town where all those Facebook comments come from. And it's frustrating to see them come to life on the page, but holy hell is it accurate. Not just about gays, but Hispanics. The town is better much the "you can't come here and make us treat you like humans when you threaten the sanctity of marriage!!!" type and it will make you mad and you will think "god this is heavy handed" but then you remember wait, there really ARE people like that.

Kaycee's inner turmoil and fear of being found out comes to a very expected head, but she tackles it the best way a teenage girl can.

Don't pick up this book expecting a YA story to be full of smart, sophisticated, worldly teens who never make a single mistake and always speak with eloquence. The teens in this story are young, rough around the edges, thrumming with hormones, and real.

Yes, it is a coming out story.

Yes, it is one that matters so much, that will hit you right in the heart (in that space where you still remember that first all-consuming crush and how badly you wanted to smell them, be near them, have their attention), and need to be in the hands of every young girl with questions and every old grump with a fear about /those/ people.

This book is gong to be big. I hope.
Profile Image for Catherine.
280 reviews16 followers
December 17, 2015
I absolutely loved this book!

I felt the author did a really good job in creating a story with lovable characters, angst, strength, humour and a great overall story that you never want to stop reading. I thought the emotions and turmoil that the lead character Kaycee went through was very believable and I liked the way she slowly went from a frightened teen who didn't want to rock the boat to a strong lead the way person. Bren was a perfect match for Kaycee, I loved reading the interactions which just flowed well making it difficult to move on from these characters when I finished.

What a great story for LGBT youth and those struggling to accept who they are. The story shows us how far we have come in LGBT rights and acceptance but also reminds us that we have a way to go. That you can't please everyone but being true to yourself will give you the greatest gift in life, love.

This is a feel good story where you do go through some bumps along the way which makes the sweet moments even better. Great book and I highly recommend the read!

I was given this book by NetGalley for an honest review.
Profile Image for Megan  (thebookishtwins).
527 reviews171 followers
July 16, 2016
I received this free from the publishers via NetGalley

DNF 25%

Kaycee Jean McCoy has lived her entire life in small - and overly conservative - town, Sunshine, Tennessee. Kaycee wanted to fit in and be accepted, which meant letting herself get kissed by boys. However, when Bren comes to town, Kaycee can't help but fall for her.

I was really looking forward to South of Sunshine, however, I found it an extremely dull read - hence the DNF.

Firstly, I felt like the characters were just cardboard cut-outs and very two-dimensional with little complexities or personalities which made it very hard to connect with them, or to care about their story. This is important because South of Sunshine appears as if it was heading to be a very character driven novel, so with underdeveloped characters, it was turning out to be a chore for me. There was also some slut-shaming, and bi-phobia which also made it harder to read. Finally, I felt like South of Sunshine was relying on too many stereotypes and it was a tad simplistic for my taste.

Overall, not a book I would personally recommend.
Profile Image for Jenefer R.
279 reviews47 followers
August 16, 2016

Rating: 2.5 Stars

First things first, this book didn’t grab me quickly. Things didn’t pick up until about halfway through. The build up was slow and the finish a bit too fast.

All throughout the book, the references to small town Southern mentality cliches about race and sexuality made me mad. I’m guessing that was the point so I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing per se. I’m pretty open minded and I guess I know these things happen, but still they make me angry. Kudos to any author that can make me have emotional reactions…happiness, anger, or otherwise.

The story was okay. Not life changing or anything. I think it had a few too many cliches in it. The characters weren’t as deep as I had hoped. I had a girl crush on Bren (I can’t lie), but I didn’t quite care for Kaycee (the MC). I liked Van and I want to be his friend!

It’s a sad reality that some people’s religious beliefs prevent them from being open to the idea that love is love so I like that this novel addressed that. But still something was lacking for me. I don’t know that I can articulate exactly what was missing, I just know it didn’t feel complete.

Profile Image for Molli Moran.
Author 7 books221 followers
September 19, 2017
While cute at times, not a read that worked for me. A few of the characters were way too stereotypical (i.e. overly flamboyant gay boy, "slutty" bisexual girl, lesbian with a mullet), which was really disappointing. I'd like to see the author avoid that in the future, by more effort and respect, and a bit deeper insight into her queer characters. Because these characters were built around stereotypes, I couldn't resonate with them.

Kaycee's best friend, Van, is gay, and it was awesome to see he was NOT painted as a stereotype. Their friendship grew through bumps and honesty, and I loved it.

I want to applaud the use of labels. They don't always work + aren't always needed, but they were here. Seeing Kaycee identify as a lesbian was amazing because it's on the page, along with discussions of consent, and being queer *and* a believer.

However, there's a lot of heart in this sweet story, and it's refreshing to see a f/f couple NOT doomed from the get-go. Hopefully this book will help teens, but it's likely not one I'll recommend.
Profile Image for Kate.
99 reviews10 followers
March 8, 2016
This is a story of a young girl living in a small town in America figuring out who she is. Kaycee is a young woman with a God loving mother living in a town where being gay isn't exactly something someone shouts from the rooftops.

In comes Bren, basketball star, beautiful and pretty open about her sexuality. This tips Kaycees balanced world on its axis and she finally starts to accept her not so straight self. Throw in spiteful teenagers, unhappy parents and general teenage angst and you've an interesting story.

I must admit I find these stories that focus on this part of America interesting, just to see the types of things people are still dealing with today.

I'm not a huge fan of YA novels but I enjoyed this. Watching Kaycee trying to decide whether to follow her path or the "right" path, the one expected of her by family, friends and those in her town.

ARC received from publisher via NetGalley
Profile Image for Katie Larsen.
29 reviews1 follower
December 15, 2015
I have enjoyed reading South of Sunshine so much. I cried, laughed and cheered for these kids. The teens really act like teens. They are wild, reckless, cruel, and sometimes wise. Dana Elmendorf expertly walks us through the fears and difficult experiences gay teens go through, and still manages to work in so much love, friendship, beauty, and hope for the future. There are several different characters that are gay, and they have differing levels of support from their families. The predominate message I took from this is that when you come out you are not just exposing yourself to haters, but allowing yourself the opportunity to be truly loved and supported by others. I would highly recommend South of Sunshine to teens and adults. Don't quit reading at the difficult parts. You will be glad you stuck with it till the end.
Profile Image for Amber Smith.
Author 10 books1,365 followers
March 6, 2016
A beautiful story of self-discovery and acceptance! The picture that Dana Elmendorf paints of small town Tennessee - particularly what it feels like for Kaycee, a lesbian who's over pretending to be someone she's not - was extremely believable and realistic. I felt so strongly for Kaycee, as she seemed to have one foot in two different worlds, the struggle of embracing her true self when doing so was at odds with the rest of her life rang so true. I also loved the romance element of this book-Kaycee and Bren are a much needed couple in YA lit! Relatable on so many levels, SOUTH OF SUNSHINE is a triumphant debut about love, self-acceptance, and being oneself!

*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review*
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