The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory
To be released: May 5, 2015
Review by: Kristie M. Hendricks
Stacy Wakefield serves us a tough heroine in Sid; a young woman seeking a squat to call home in NYC starting in the summer of 1995. Her journey of growing into herself is one of testing limits. Sid goes to the cliff of punk themed anarchism and the pirate-reminiscent squatting scene solo seeking a dwelling without adhering to a system that doesn’t allow for reasonable rent. This novel, though targeting young adult audiences, may also offer insight for any aged reader interested in a basic understanding of mid-nineties squatting in New York as the author writes from experience and describes actual locations from memory.
The focus of the novel is the personal growth of Sid, who, in the beginning of the story, believes her ticket to successful squatting is her newly acquired Black Flag tattoo. Once she finds the squats in Manhattan to be over-crowded, she decides to partner with Lorenzo and head to a different part of the city. Sid needs to prove her resourcefulness to house members both for political standing and survival within her squat located in the thinly populated frontier of the dilapidated mid-nineties Brooklyn. The portrayal of Sid’s toughness through her work and choices is one of the strongest features of Wakefield’s writing. Over time, Sid harnesses her angst to serve her better. To illustrate this growth, Wakefield uses two male characters, the aforementioned Lorenzo and Mitch, to measure Sid.
Lorenzo, along with some other supporting characters is in the scene primarily for art. Art is a minor theme in the work we see the depths of the characters via their art: Lorenzo’s music, Skip’s poetry, Raven’s photo project, Sid’s Mural. Lorenzo is unreliable and irresponsible but is initially Sid’s main interest other than squatting. His second focus is raising a choice finger to authority and anyone who challenges him. Together, Sid and Lorenzo venture, somewhat aimlessly, into Brooklyn and find Mitch.
Mitch is a seasoned squatter. He knows the regulations and aims to have a clean and safe place to live. Sid is initially intimidated by Mitch and his roughness, his odd way of living in the squatting scene, often described as more meathead jock than punk, but remains objective and notices how much she can identify with Mitch’s values. Sid appreciates his knowledge in all things practical, like getting electricity, maintaining a job, knowing codes for buildings, staying clean, and being organized. She learns from him and applies this information practically in his absence.
Although she has a crush on Lorenzo and then dates Mitch, men are not her focus. Sid works hard, hones self-love and is mostly alone throughout the novel. To highlight this independence, Wakefield includes a side character, Abby, who is probably too dependent on the wrong guys. However, in the spirit of strong women, we also get Raven. Raven is also a strong character who attends a court hearing to defend the side of Rot-Squat in what she viewed as an unlawful demolition/eviction. However, the supporting characters are overall underdeveloped. Lee and Stumps are given much needed background around page 190 which seems almost a whole book too late. The dialogue, even if geared toward young adults, is too diluted when set against the complex setting of squats Wakefield took care to illustrate.
One relationship that is well developed in this novel is between Sid and her father. He isn’t a constant character but we get to know so much about Sid from his support and love. Somehow he is not fearful for his young daughter in one of the roughest neighborhoods around yet we know he cares for her. This artistic avenue travelled to illustrate Sid’s strength is so well done: if her father is neglectful, she succeeds anyway and is a stronger person for being alone; if he cares for her well-being, she has already somehow proven she can handle the streets of New York. We don’t really have to choose one or the other, it’s a little bit of both, and Sid can handle it. Wakefield’s Sid is a wise risk-taker. She loaded tasks on her back until she literally fell over. She gave everything she had and when it crumbled like the bread in the old factory once did, she stands up and walks out with Mitch to start it all again.