Cultivating Sunshine

J.S.R. Smith

Publisher: Smelbiney Publishing Pages: 259 Price: (paperback) $13.99 ISBN: 9780973366716 Reviewed: February, 2023

What would you pay if you could replace sad memories with happy ones? And what would it cost if those memories were extracted from someone else? J.S.R. Smith examines this question in his post-apocalyptic, young adult novel, Cultivating Sunshine.

In the near-future, Mona, an orphan, leaves the orphanage to live at the Company, a business that removes happy memories from orphans in a process called the Selective Memory Extraction Procedure. Mona herself is cultivated to remember things and, thus, her instructors are excited by the money she might bring when her memories are eventually extracted.

Mona befriends her main memory instructor, Harriet, and as she’s being trained, she also becomes friends with Owen, who not only has a great memory but the ability to dream. Although the memory extraction process is said to be safe, Mona is surprised after Owen undergoes the operation and his personality changes overnight. As the story evolves, Mona, Harriet and a small cadre of others work to learn the truth.

This is an intriguing premise, and Smith’s dialogue and prose can be impressively poetic: “Harriet pauses. She can almost see the grey creep up Andriss’ face. ‘Now what if I could sell you sunshine?’ she asks. ‘What if I had a warm light that could cut through the dust and find a patch of dirt that still had some seed of hope in it… That’s what they are selling.”

The story also has several flaws, however. It’s told through many points of view, which can be dizzying. Sometimes the dialogue is tedious, with the author revealing even mundane conversation instead of just the talk that drives the story. The novel is also set in present tense, which can be jarring, and instead of just saying “says,” the characters distractingly “ask,” “exclaim,” “warn,” “gasp,” etc.

Nonetheless, fans of dystopian novels will enjoy the premise, and the author promises a sequel, leaving open the possibility of improvement in the next installment.

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