The Secret Sunshine Project by Benjamin Dean

Publication Date: 31 March 2022

The Blurb

Bea’s family are happy. Like, really happy. Like, kind of gross but also cute happy. So when they visit London Pride together and have the ultimate day out, Bea doesn’t think her family could possibly get any happier. But a year later, a grey cloud is following Bea’s family around. Dad has passed away, and without him around they have no choice but to pack their bags and move to the countryside to live with Gran.

With Bea’s big sister, Riley, taking the news hard, Bea will do anything to cheer her up. So with the help of new friends, The Secret Sunshine Project is formed – Bea’s plan to bring Pride to the countryside and a smile back to Riley’s face. There’s just one teeny tiny problem – the village mayor. A grumpy old woman who’s on a mission to rain on Bea’s parade…

Cover and internal illustrations by Sandhya Prabhat

The Review

Vibrant storytelling makes this emotional rollercoaster of a read shimmer with hope and joy as Bea searches for a way back to the end of the rainbow for her family.

From the moment we meet Bea and her family, a wave of love washes over us. This is a family who know how to support each other and do. As the wave of grief crashes over them at leaving behind the home they had shared with Dad, we see them retreat behind walls to keep themselves going. Bea, strong and stoic, Riley, angry and withdrawn, and Mum resigned and at a loss as to how to heal all of their wounds while hers still gape open.

As they arrive in St Regent’s Vale, the kind of village that wouldn’t be out of place in the Cotswolds with it’s amenities gathered around the village square, we see the girls go their separate ways in a bid to get through the summer. When the local children find out Bea is Mrs Gordon’s granddaughter she is quickly accepted into their gang, where friendship and trust wrap themselves around her as she fights to find a way to help her sister. Riley finds her own friend in Ziggy, and we see her start to allow herself to let others in again.

With a reputation that precedes her, Rita, who rules the village with an iron fist, takes no time at all to ensure the newcomers understand it is her way or no way. Gran, however, appears to be the only one not cowed by her, a spirit that rubs off on her granddaughters. I want to be best friends with Gran, she reminds me so much of me Mam, a lioness that no one messed with!

We need far more children’s book normalising LBGTQ+ characters in the way this book does. Riley, Ziggy, and Noah are absolute gems that children will relate to easily. It was especially moving watching Noah’s internal conflict and seeing him find his inner superhero with Norman’s help.

The Secret Sunshine Project is a celebration of love, friendship and togetherness in all of it’s forms, bringing the sunshine and fight of Pride to a countryside village, and shows that you are never too young to fight for what you believe in, especially when you stand with friends. An utterly fabulous story – I cried, laughed and cried again – sad tears, happy tears, hopeful tears.

Great for fans of:

  • Jelly by Jo Cotterill
  • A Kind Of Spark by Elle McNicoll
  • The Soup Movement by Ben Davis

For anyone who is grieving, I can personally recommend You Will Be OK by Julie Stokes to help make sense of the swirling palette of emotions that it brings.

Benjamin Dean’s Pride Photos

Benjamin has very kindly shared some of his Pride photos, explaining why they are important to him. They give a real flavour of the fun and friendliness that can be found at every Pride, wherever it takes place around the world. Photos and captions by Benjamin Dean…

This picture was taken at Brighton Pride while Britney Spears was performing. It’s probably my favourite picture I’ve ever taken.
This picture was taken in 2020 when Pride had been cancelled because of Covid. In a dramatic turn of events, I dyed my hair pink and danced on my balcony to pretend I was still there.
This picture was taken just before I marched in my first ever Pride. My friends thought it’d be fun to pin me down and hairspray blue glitter into my beard. I was finding glitter in places I can’t mention for weeks after.
I took this picture at London Pride in 2017. The flags, the sun, the rainbow fire engine, it brings back so many fond memories and inspired my first book, Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow.
Here I am with two friends the weekend before Madrid Pride in 2018. I had never been happier and that trip reminded me of how important chosen families are.

Huge thanks to Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy and inviting me to take part in the blog tour. Do make sure you check out all of the other stops.