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Sunshine State

3.42  ·  Rating details ·  1,029 Ratings  ·  199 Reviews
Rising literary star and Los Angeles Times First Fiction Award finalist Sarah Gerard uses her experiences growing up along Florida’s gulf coast to illuminate the struggles of modern human survival—physical, emotional, environmental—through a collection of essays exploring intimacy, addiction, obsession, religion, homelessness, and incarceration. 

With the personal insight o
Paperback, 384 pages
Published April 11th 2017 by Harper Perennial
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But_i_thought_ 306 pages, minus the bibliography and end notes.

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Rachel León
May 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2017, essays, 2017
The first essay in this collection blew me away. I'm still reeling from its sharpness and hungry to reread it. From there the essays can be a mixed bag. Some are very strong, and others less so. Overall it's a solid collection with that first essay as the most notable. For those who enjoy essay collections, this one is pretty fantastic.
Rebecca Foster
Gerard reflects on her growing-up years in Florida and explores the history of several organizations that have captured her imagination. Often, she moves from the personal to the general, first explaining what a certain movement means to her and then retreating into the past to provide its thorough history. Most of the essays are quite long, and it may be that readers will struggle to sustain their interest in some of the topics if they don’t have a personal connection. For that reason, I prefer ...more
Amy Bernhard
Apr 28, 2017 rated it it was ok
I read this book because I'm also writing about place. I think it's incredibly challenging to write a researched piece while sustaining a clear, engaging personal narrative. Gerard struggles here. Some of these essays read like a dissertation. The research goes on for pages and we lose Gerard's voice. I think most of these essays would have benefited from more personal story and way less research--they're very long and easily could have been cut in half. I'm also not sure why "Records" was inclu ...more
Mar 26, 2017 rated it it was ok
I wanted badly to like this book. I did not.

Part of the problem is that it was described as a new take on the state of Florida. The writing of the first essay, BFF, was engaging and sharp, and the product of a critical mind—but it had nothing to do with Florida other than being tangentially set there. As I read further, the essays got longer and longer, and the writing felt like an almost gonzo journalism combination of memoir and reporting. Even in the places where Florida experiences were fron
Jun 25, 2017 rated it liked it
An eclectic essay collection that touches on topics ranging from friendship to homelessness to the environment. Sarah Gerard's strongest essays, such as "BFF" and "Rabbit", explore intimate emotions like loss and jealousy with vulnerability and detail. Some of her pieces that looked outward did not resonate with me as much, because even though they explored important topics, I could not hear Gerard's voice over the inundation of facts and interviews. Overall, a good combination of unique pieces ...more
Lolly K Dandeneau
Mar 04, 2017 rated it really liked it my blog
“Every day. Bob’s parent’s sued people- the city, other motorists, etc.- for a living.”

Essays, memoir, environmental… all these things make up this collection. BFF is a fantastic choice to start the book. It’s a raw, brutal bloodletting on friendship. It’s a give and take, it’s envy and love, it’s everything crazy, young girls are made of- it’s not sugar and spice my friends. Florida grown myself, having left, lived in other countries and traveled
Vincent Scarpa
Apr 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I had the great privilege to read this book months ago, but seeing as it's pub day and Sunshine State is officially out in the world, I'm bumping this up. I adored Sarah's debut novel Binary Star with something like religious fervor, and this collection somehow manages to more than live up to the impossibly high standard that novel set. Gerard's prose is deft and lyrical, her curiosity unyielding and insatiable. These essays are documents of a prismatic mind at work on the page, examining, as Jo ...more
Patty Cottrell
Nov 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An amazing book.
Christopher Alonso
Feb 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I wrote a review of this book for the Miami Rail. You can read it here for free:
Jun 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Because these are essays I didn't expect a lengthy biblio in the back - I'm always surprised when books "end early" because of it. This collection is vivid, insightful, and thought-provoking, working less as a series of personal essays and more as a series of long-form creative non-fiction journalism (which isn't a thing I guess but that's what this is). Rarely after reading personal essays do I feel as if I've learned about facts as well as the human condition, but Sunshine State is fascinating ...more
Erica Siudzinski
Jun 29, 2017 rated it did not like it
DNF--couldn't get past the first two stories.

"BFF" was as generic as short stories come, without a personal spark to keep you invested. Sounded like the ramblings of a 15-year-old girl in the throes of adolescent friendship. Bland, superficial, ultimately forgettable.

"Mother-Father God" seemed more promising but ultimately ended up being not a short story, but more a piece of journalism, and a bad one at that. It was neither engaging on a factual level nor on a human interest level. Needed so m
May 28, 2017 rated it it was ok
I really enjoyed three of the essays in this book: BFF, Going Diamond and Rabbit because they felt the most authentic and personal. The other essays just didn't catch my attention because they read more like research papers.

A few of my favorite highlights:

BFF this time we'd already gotten the tattoos that linked our right and left hips together into a single message: "Forever / & ever." And I should say that, at a glance, my text appeared to spell "Beaver" - too perfect that yours bo
May 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
As someone who is endlessly fascinated by what I imagine is the seething underbelly of criminality and sexual mystique that mythologizes Florida as a hedonistic playground for serial killers, Tony Montana, and the creators of Grand Theft Auto, I've come to covet any book that frames this storied place as its setting, and, well Sunshine State does just that.

The book is roughly divided into two sections, with the first half mostly vignettes from Sarah Gerard's childhood and adolescence growing up
May 06, 2017 rated it liked it
An uneven collection of essays, some reportorial, some memoirish, enjoyable in parts but ultimately frustrating because we never feel like we get to know the author or get her mature perspectives on what she shares of her life.
Pearse Anderson
Overdrive stopped playing this audiobook after part seven, so I guess I'm done now? It's refusing to let me listen to the rest of it. Well, this book was good, but not a superb collection of essay. At least the first half. BFF blew me away, and how Gerard is able to blend time and history together is a great skill! I like her, and I like her visions of Florida. Maybe this is how Joan Didion talks about California. Or Miami. Wasn't she in Miami? Anywho, this was a fine read. I expected a bit more ...more
May 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
The essay that depicts Amway and its shallow, pyramid-scheme culture of materialism and acquisition and its founders- the DeVos family- is quietly and calmly blood curdling and should be required reading for anyone trying to understand what makes Besty DeVos's mind work the way it does. (Or doesn't.)

The heartbreaking and repulsive story of the bird sanctuary illuminates something essential about Florida: humanity's love for nature coupled and contrasted with our willingness to destroy it by poss
Jun 04, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: florida, 2017, audiobooks
3.5 stars, but rounding down because of the "Florida factor". The Florida factor is what I have to impose on my reviews of books set in Florida. I am a native Floridian and I will basically read anything set there. Much of this book, for example, is set in Pinellas County and I know that very well, have been there many many times. The "Florida factor" is my way of asking: If this book were set in another state, would I still rate it as high? Not really. I enjoyed this, but I'm giving nostalgia a ...more
May 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best books I've read so far this year. I'm so glad I bought Gerard's book, rather than waiting for it to arrive at the library.

Sunshine State is a book to revisit when thinking about thinking about other people.

This book was marketed as "a way to understand Trump's America." Fuck that. The American dream is an undertow, but it's more an analysis of the American sickness of always wanting more. From any side. "We were happy, until we were told we could be happier." (78) Every p
May 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved reading Sunshine State, where each story is a universe of its own. Gerard's great writing leads you through seemingly stand-alone stories about life, love, society, culture, sex, health, family, and everything in between. From pyramid schemes to love stories to a bird smuggler, you really get it all in this book. It is new-age gonzo journalism where Sarah shows you pieces of her inner soul and then applies that worldview to external situations -- throwing herself into riveting ...more
Oct 30, 2017 rated it did not like it
This book was awful. I kept thinking, okay one more essay and it will get readable, but nope. It is extremely rare for me to give up on a book, so take that how you will. I'm sure the author is a nice person, but the authorial tone was an attempt at edginess marred by pretension; the author I conjure in my head would find life's greatest delight in finding a way to make everyone around them look dumb at a cocktail party.

I had hoped for a book of personal essays, but this author wanted to cudgel
Graham Oliver
Really enjoyed this when it was about her life, her family, her friends. Did not enjoy the journalism/research aspects. I think this was mostly the topics, just wasn't very interested in what she focuses on.
Jaclyn Crupi
Aug 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Gerard's essay game is strong.
Oct 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Sarah is amazing and proves it, again!!
Sep 12, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: essay-collection
This essay collection starts off with a bang and then quickly fizzles out. I loved the first story ("BFF") which charts the emotional ups and downs of a toxic friendship, using lacerating prose.

Most remaining pieces however are impersonal, technical essays on a wide range of topics (from the history of a fringe church, to homelessness in Florida, to a troubled bird sanctuary). The essays are research-dense and dry, and would have been better placed in a related industry journal.

Apart from "BFF
Julie Endres
Jun 07, 2018 rated it did not like it
I waited 6 months to get this book from my library— I was so looking forward to it. What a disappointment. I should preface this with I am not a fan of shorts but this came recommended and is about the area I primarily live in. The first essay was amazing. Totally thought-provoking and blew me away. It was downhill quickly from there. The other essays I just couldn’t wait for them to be finished. Going Diamond about the families success with Amway and the way of living it provided for them just ...more
Morgan Henley
Mar 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was a really great series of essays. As a Floridian and of a similar generation, I enjoyed perhaps more than most. Some of the essays left me really moved and elicited very strong emotions. I really enjoyed the essays, 'Sunshine State,' which seemed to capture something very Floridian and 'Records,' which captured youth in such a painfully accurate way. I found the essay on the New Thought church the least interesting of the series and would've preferred to hear more about her personal expe ...more
Jun 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
While I did not love the subject of every essay in this book, I did love the writing itself. Gerard is a skilled writer, who crafts beautiful lyrical sentences to describe the most mundane of the human experience. The opening essay, "BFF," is one of the most honest pieces I have ever read about friendship and the pain that sometimes accompanies it. "Mother-Father God," "The Mayor of Williams Park," and "Rabbit" were my other favorite essays in this collection.
Kate Klassa
Apr 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
I was expecting a series of essays about growing up in Florida with general statements about Floridian culture thrown in, but instead "Sunshine State" is a fascinating series of essays on specific topics -- homelessness, Amway, house hunting, etc -- with Gerard's personal history of the topic used as context. The essays are quite long, and the ones that I didn't have a personal connection with I found harder to get into.
Apr 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Not what I expected in a themed collection about Florida- from deeply personal narratives to almost expose journalism on social issues...Gerard writes well about a broad variety of topics. With Florida as a backdrop. Regardless, it did make me a little more homesick.
Fascinating overall, amazed she lived to tell. Gerard strikes me as someone who grew up with dysfunction, absorbed and then recreated it in her own life, but has managed to come through wiser on the other side.

Great Florida history; Amway, Christian Science, St. Pete Bird Sanctuary...
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Sarah Gerard is the author of the novel Binary Star (Two Dollar Radio), the forthcoming essay collection Sunshine State (Harper Perennial), and two chapbooks, most recently BFF (Guillotine). Her short stories, essays, interviews, and criticism have appeared in The New York Times, Granta, New York Magazine‘s “The Cut”, The Paris Review Daily, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Bookforum, Joyland, Vic ...more

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