Sunnyside Plaza by Scott Simon

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Sunnyside Plaza's mentally disabled adults leave their comfort zone to solve a puzzle.

Sunnyside Plaza by Scott Simon. Little, Brown, 2020, 192 pages

Reading level: Intermediate, 8-10 years

Recommended for: 10-15 years

Sally Miyake is 8 times 2 plus 3 years old and cannot read, but still knows a lot. She lives in a cozy house in Chicago, with Mrs. Byrne and Conrad, the cook, and seven others who are “different” from her. Roommate Laurence doesn't wake up one morning and two detectives call. This is the standard work instruction when someone dies alone – nothing out of the ordinary until Julius dies too. He was 73 years old, so this part seems natural enough. Detectives Esther Rivas and Lon Bridges (who are married and have children) like Sally and invite them for family outings, including a Seder dinner at their home. Her friendship opened up a whole new world for her until her best friend Mary had a stroke. It is clear that something extraordinary is going on. When Sally discovers a clue, she has to leave her comfort zone to provide the evidence.

If you've heard or ever heard of NPR, you've heard the warm, friendly voice and contagious laugh of author Scott Simon. This is his first children's novel, and he doesn't read quite like a children's novel with its adult characters and slow pace. The plot unfolds through Sally's limited perspective, but readers' patience is rewarded. Most of us have little contact with mentally disabled adults, but Simon worked in such a group home in his early twenties, and his rendition of Sally's voice and experience sounds authentic. The main message is clear that these people have a life worth living. As Sally tells a naysayer:

I'm glad I was born! . . . I may not know if it's Tuesday or Wednesday, how I ride the bus alone, go to the park alone, or how I tie my shoes. But I know my friends. . . I like to work. I like humans . . . I am glad that I was born. And I'm glad I'm different from you.

This is as good a testimony as any other about the inherent value of human life, regardless of its limits.


  • A few vulgar words are used to describe a character that matches the description.
  • A discussion of life after death presents heaven as a reward that we must earn.

Overall rating: 4 (of 5)

  • Weltanschauung / moral value: 4
  • Artistic / literary value: 4

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Also with Redeemed Reader

  • Emily Colsons Dance with max describes the author's long odyssey of faith and hope with an autistic son from childhood to adulthood.
  • Temple Grandins Call all thoughts shows how different styles of thinking can lead to great discoveries.
  • Experiencing the autism spectrum is the subject of several recent children's novels with characters whose relationship to the world is sometimes precarious. See our reviews of Marcello in the real world, Rules, mockingbird, Me and Sam-Sam take care of the apocalypse, and Rule the rain.
  • How to speak to an autistic childhelps a real autistic child readers to refer to someone their age, who does not always seem to react like "normal" people.
  • Few children's novels deal with mentally disabled adults. We have never checked it, but can recommend it The man who loved clowns by June Rae Wood. The author drew on her own experience with a Down syndrome brother to write about the protagonist's complicated relationship, which an uncle similarly challenged.

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