The Sunshine Stone
Foster Henderson’s novel The Sunshine Stone opens with teenager Antonia Davidson watching as her home is overrun by police arresting her lawyer father for money laundering. Antonia and her mother try to survive the best they can in Rotney, an East End London slum. Antonia’s experience of a reality she has never encountered or suspected is jarring as she is brutally bullied by the Rotney locals. Yet, Antonia finds a kernel of resistance and rage inside her blooming slowly into her fighting back due in no small part to a chance encounter with a magician.
The Great Cornelius is Frank, an 80-year old American Korean War hero, who takes Antonia under his wing showing her exactly how to deal with a gang of bullies. With his help, Antonia puts down the abuse she faces daily at Rotney High beginning to challenge other bullies as well. But more than this, Antonia becomes fascinated by Frank and how he is seemingly able to perform real magic. As the two grow closer, Franks history and Antonia’s present collide making a new, brighter future.
This inter-generational story is compelling. Henderson is able to capture the anxiety of being a confused, angry, hopeful, and inquisitive adolescent as well as the kindness of a guarded octogenarian in an intimate and natural way. At the same time, he is able to not lose any of the action or momentum in the unfurling story. It was difficult not to read this novel and not cinematically imagine it, which is a boon.
Frank paused for a second, beaming at the memory.
“So, it got me thinking, Antonia. I saw that animals and magic – or
the illusion of magic – could give you a spontaneous thrill, a sensation
of wonder. You could find yourself smiling and emotionally involved
without even thinking. Maybe that sounds a little crude but I think
when you’ve been a soldier and seen so much death and destruction
and ugliness – you react stronger to those little rays of sunshine. And
I felt I wanted to be a part of that sunshine, to add something positive
and warm to this world. You know, this world which can be so brutal
but so beautiful at the same time.”
Even the magical elements of the story feel genuinely earned creating a certain charm. As we see Antonia and Frank’s relationship deepen and the power of the mysterious sunshine stone, which has literally given Frank a new life, slowly reveals itself readers will find themselves deeply committed to the story. Henderson is able to make the banal terrors of Rotney visceral as Antonia navigates the turbulent sea of her new life. The sunshine stone and its emissary, if you will, doesn’t give her a better life but allows her to chart a new path of her own choosing. Antonia growing up, taking control, and leaving behind her superficial as well as meek self is a wonderful tale.
Well paced and vivid in its physical and emotional description, The Sunshine Stone is a satisfying novel.