Russ Michaels has his whole life ahead of him but no plans beyond dropping out of school as soon as he turns 18. He's been in and out of juvenile detention for the last four years and thoroughly expects to end up in an adult penitentiary at some point. He hates life and everyone in it, especially this latest community service that he earned in lieu of juvie yet again.
CJ Calhoun has big plans. He wants to bring joy and happiness to sick and injured children for as long as he can by performing as a clown. The problem is, he has stage-four cancer and a horrible prognosis.
When circumstances throw these two polar opposites together, they find they have more in common than they imagined. CJ discovers Russ's talent for art and arranges for Russ to create a mural in the hospital foyer, which leads to a tentative scholarship to the Art Institute. As life changes in ways neither of them could have expected, Russ must work harder than ever to better himself as CJ struggles with his deteriorating health.
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You know when you’ve finished listening to an audiobook from Audible, that one sentence in the end; Audible hopes you’ve enjoyed this program! This time it made me stark raving mad. I mean there I was crying my eyes and heart out and he has the audacity to ask if I enjoyed it?!? The nerve!
Did I enjoy crying my eyes out?
- Hell No!
Did I love A Ray of Sunlight?
- Yes, so very, very much.
CJ? / Russ?
Yes and yes.
I adored them both so much. And now I’m going to try to tell you why… Just know that whatever I try say about this book, it won’t be anywhere near how much I loved it. (I’m sorry that this review probably will rival a novel, but I just have so many feelings to share). This book made me feel, and feel a lot in a very short time; everything from dislike and angry, to happy and loving, longing and then sad and heartbroken, yet still hopeful.
After only a few minutes I was hooked on this book. I loved it. I loved the characters, the plot and everything about it. I knew heartbreak was coming, I knew it was going to be painful, but I still had to take part in this wonderful journey. And boy did this book bring on the waterworks, so have tissues handy, you will need them.
The plot itself is a simple and straight forward one, to the point where it could probably be summed up in a few sentences. Angry boy sentenced to work off his community service in the children’s wing at the local hospital. Angry boy meets boy with cancer and learns to appreciate life, himself and others. In a nutshell it’s not complicated, but this book was so much more than that. It was a beautiful tale about celebrating life and not fearing the future.
My first impression of Russ was far from good, and I fully expected to end up disliking him for the rest of the book and chalk it up to a meh story. He was everything that I can’t stand; obnoxious, angry and self-absorbed and without any regards to anything or anyone but himself. Fortunately that didn’t last long, as we got to know him we understands the reasons why he’s become that way. The neglect, and even abuse from his family (that will make you stark raving mad and want to call CPS, I mean his mom hits him with a baseball bat and no one reacts?!? WTF???)
Russ’s attitude doesn’t last long though. When he met CJ – or rather gets to know him he gets a lesson in humility, what it’s like to care for others, care about the future. And their friendship and later on love is one that fairy tales are made of. And it made me feel privileged to have been part of it, even in this small way.
CJ, what can I tell you about him? He’s a true ray of sunlight and happy, spreads joy whenever he’s near. One that makes others feel good by just being in his orbit. He’s also all alone. He was kicked out when he was 16 when he was caught kissing a boy and lived on the streets for a few weeks until he got too sick from a brain tumor and subsequently "moved into" a children’s hospital instead. When we meet him he's been there for a year, and he knows he'll never leave. But he does everything he can to make the rest of the children smile. Help them with their therapy - be that ray of light they needed in their time of need.
I was so immersed in this story that I forgot to listen to the narration. I was so focused on what was happening with Russ and CJ that nothing else existed for me. Not real life, not the narration, nothing beyond the walls of that hospital. And I think that in itself is a compliment. Nicholas Santasier drew me in and captivated me. Made me rage, smile and cry. However I can’t just leave you with that, well I can, but I won’t. So I went back to the book and listened for the narration this time, and realized that sure it was far from perfect. But you know what? The story Stein created more than made up for it, because no matter the flawed narration Santasier did manage to mesmerize me throughout.
I wasn’t all that fond of the epilogue (minor spoilers ahead). We check in with Russ ten years later. I wanted to see him happy. He deserved to be happy. But to me he seemed stuck, alone. And that hit me the most. I didn’t need him to have found the one and live happily ever after. I at least wanted him to have a prospect to love someone, being open. Maybe a few past relationships in the baggage. But no, he still came across as hung up on CJ. Loving someone new doesn’t mean that the love he felt for CJ meant any less. To me it signifies that he lived life as best he could, make the best of every moment. Now, however he felt like a martyr. The rest of the book was perfect and one that will stay with me.
I’m sorry that this was so long (I did warn you though). Just remember that one little ray of sunlight can and do light up the dark and makes the darkness seem less vast. One ray of sunlight can change everything.
A copy of this book was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review for Love Bytes.
I loved this story so much
I read and reviewed Ray of Sunlight before so I’ll just copy that here. I will say that listening to it was just as entertaining and emotional. This is one of the few books that brought me to tears.
The best compliment I can give a book is to say I couldn’t put it down. That’s the case with Ray of Sunlight by Brynn Stein. It was time to go to sleep, past time actually, and I set my Kindle down with the final quarter of the book remaining. But my brain wouldn’t let of Russ and CJ, so even though I had my CPAP mask on and was fighting a cold I grabbed my Kindle and finished the book. The lack of sleep was well worth it.
This was an amazing read with startlingly realistic depiction of an angry teen who grows by leaps and bounds when he’s influenced by a new friend.
Ray of Sunlight by Brynn Stein starts with teenager Russ Michaels being sentenced to 500 hours of community service for the latest of many bad choices. Written in first person POV, the reader is in Russ’s head as he lists all the things he’s done and how he’s not to blame for any of it. It’s the perfect depiction of surly, bullheaded teenager who’s mad at the world.
The community service leads to Russ meeting CJ Calhoun, a young man who dons clown make-up and does shows for kids in the burn unit of a hospital. Russ is surprised that CJ also lives at the hospital because he has cancer. Russ then starts a marvelous transformation from a quick-tempered teen pissed off at the world to a caring and selfless young man.
I loved that the metamorphosis didn’t happen overnight, but rather over a period of months, bit by bit. His friendship with CJ starts it all when he sees how CJ cares about all the kids who have to stay at the hospital because of burns, cancer, or neurological disorders. At Thanksgiving Russ helps organize a large meal for all the kids and their families, and while his original purpose behind it is to see CJ, he sees the positive effects on everyone involved.
Russ’s family life is far from happy and it’s easy to see why he began misbehaving in the first place. He has a step-father who hates him and treats him poorly, a mother who supports whatever her husband says and a step-brother who he has a rivalry with. There’s definite verbal and emotional abuse heaped on Russ as well some physical. It’s not a pretty situation.
One of my issues with the book are Russ’s step-father and mother who are the stereotypical hypocritical homophobes. But the positives of this tale far outweigh that one little niggle. Especially the evolution of the relationship between Russ and his step-brother, Pete. They go from enemies to friends over the course of the book and it was a realistic change. At the end Pete stands up to his dickhead father in support of Russ and they refer to each as brothers, ditching the step label.
CJ and the staff and children at the hospital become Russ’s new family and he learns what true, unconditional love is.
I absolutely loved Russ and CJ’s slow moving love story. CJ knew he loved Russ before Russ had figured it out himself. Russ is bisexual, but hasn’t told anyone, or done anything with anyone, male or female. Their romance is sweet and hot, though they never did anything more than make out, CJ’s cancer doesn’t allow them to do much more, not that they don’t think about.
I’d recommend this book for YA readers and for those who don’t normally read the genre. It’s well written with the perfect voice of a teenager.
I really hope there’s a follow-up to the story, especially after the emotional epilogue. I’d love to see Russ’s happy ending.
Nicholas Santasier did a simply marvelous job at narrating the story. In my mind Russ has a special voice and Santasier nailed it. He got the teenage angst perfectly. He did well with CJ and all the supporting characters as well.
I haven’t listened to Santasier before but I certainly won’t hesitate if he narrates a book I’m interested in.