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When Gillian Marchenko asked me to review her memoir, Sun Shine Down, I hesitated. Gillian, you see, is my friend. I like her. I think she’s an awesome person and I have come to an age in which I realize that just because someone is your friend and you like them does not mean that you are going to like the book that they write. Furthermore, for all my faults, I’m not a liar: I’m going to tell you what I really think of something. Compounded to that is the fact that book reviewing isn’t exactly my forte: I’m an adept reader who then fumbles for words to articulate what was read, left more often than not with, “uhhhhh….. I liked it!” – or not.

So I was nervous about that too. I wanted to do right with my friend.

Gillian made it easy to commit by saying that while she hoped I’d like her book, even if my review was negative, it would still be helpful, because it’s still putting the word out. Which is very true! Okay! So, I signed on up.

The book itself is very short, around 100 pages. It’s a snippet in the period of time in which her daughter, Polina was born in the Ukraine, and in which she struggled to come to terms with the Down syndrome diagnosis.

A little bit of background: Gillian was a Christian missionary in the Ukraine, married to a Ukrainian minister when her third daughter was born. She herself is originally from the United States. Her daughter was a surprise – not a surprise in the “whoops, we weren’t planning on having a baby!” way, but a surprise in that they were not expecting her to have Down syndrome.

So this story is about that short period of time surrounding her daughter’s birth.


Sun Shine Down is exceptionally well written.

Gillian crafts elegant sentences, weaves words together in seamless harmonies, creating some gorgeous melodies. She is very good.

Very, very good. I know that Gillian’s blog is popular, but I think that this book puts her blog to shame – I really feel that she is a born writer. She excels at the longer stories, the places like her book in which she has the time and space to really let her words come together.  Because boy, was this ever a splendid bit of writing!

This book is an excellent read and as it’s not long, it’s a chew and a pull that you can savor your way through over a weekend.

I really enjoyed reading what she had to say. But – and did you know there would be a “but” here?!  – well, yeah, BUT – but… but! But I felt that she’s just scratching the surface in this memoir. After reading through a great many pages dealing with grief and a grappling of the meaning and presence of the extra chromosome in their lives, there were just a few pages in which her acceptance of her daughter is chronicled.

Now, since I know Gillian, I know she really is a-okay with Down syndrome. But I’m not sure I’d really feel that way if I didn’t know her and if I was just reading this book out of the blue. You know?

I also wanted to know more about many, many things: her life in the Ukraine, her husband (- and how did he become a minister? how widespread is Christianity in the Ukraine? What are the attitudes surrounding Christianity in the Ukraine?), her family – her background as a Christian, really. Since I also suffer from depression, I was also curious about how her depression has changed since Polly was born (- has it?) and how exactly the Down syndrome diagnosis affected it. I wanted to know a lot more about the dynamics of her depression.

I ended up thinking that this book is off to a great start: it makes me ask questions, it makes me want to learn more about her life and herself. It’s like a great introduction to a story that will hopefully told in greater depth sometime soon.

But! (here we go, another “but”!) – don’t take my word for it – find out for yourself! Read it! One copy of her book will be given away this time next week to someone commenting here. So, leave a comment! And if you don’t feel like waiting a week, just go ahead and buy it –

Sun Shine Down

It’s only $9.99 on Kindle and $13 via paperback.

And don’t forget to leave a comment here to enter the giveaway for your own copy!

tree with bird


You have to scroll down to reach the comments – it’s the box where it says, “do you have your coffee? let’s talk”. Just jot a comment there to enter the giveaway – or for you shyer types out there who might want to enter but are stymied by the “what do I say?” block when you come to the comment box – how about a question: what famous song by John Denver involves sunshine?


Sorry the comments are so far down there – I can’t figure out how to bring it up/change the order of stuff

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  1. Ahhh..I have so much reading in my future!!!! Which is a good thing, may I always have more books to read than time to do it right? I wanna win! Me! Me! Me! I know of, but don’t know Gillian, so I’ll be curious to see if I take it in the same light as you. What’s interesting about the topic to me is that in reading so many of the adoption in the Ukraine stories, I’m curious about how having Polly born in that culture vs hear would affect the acceptance issues. I always say I’m grateful for Abby having been born in the time and place that she was. Hmmm…

  2. My son was born this April, and we had a surprise birth diagnosis too. I’m looking forward to reading Gillian’s story!

  3. I can’t wait to read this book. I have a daughter w/ Down syndrome and I also suffer from depression. Thanks to both of you for sharing about your lives.

  4. Looking forward to reading this book–my son who has Down syndrome is 7 and he is our joy boy! It’s an amazing community we belong to by having him.

  5. Heather Brown says:

    I really really want to read this book!! 🙂

  6. I have been following Gillian’s blog for quite a while, and am really excited to read this book. All of us who share the presence of an extra chromosome that has touched our lives have both unifying experiences, as well as very differing ones. I am looking forward to hearing Gillian’s heart and journey.

  7. Yep, I’ve got my coffee, and I’m having a blast checking out your site! I hear you on that critique. The only issue I had with her story was that I wanted to hear more. So… I guess that means it’s time to start working on the second one! Nice to meet ya through the launch team.

  8. Would definitely like to win this book. After I read it, will donate it to the local hospital’s library for more parents to read.

  9. Joanne Raye-Dolman says:

    I too have added this book to my list of must read books!! My son Jackson has Down syndrome and is quite honestly, the glue that makes our little family stick together in perfect harmony! I also have a friend who just recently (8 weeks ago) had a beautiful little girl with Down syndrome. While they are still going through the initial grieving process, I am hoping this book might help them realize that better days are in their future. All of their futures!! 🙂

  10. I HAVE met Gillian and interacted with Gillian as a writer, so I really appreciated that a friend of hers would be willingly objective even if she did NOT like the book. And I am not surprised that you DID like it. Can’t wait to read it myself!

  11. Maria Neumann says:

    I really enjoy reading books about children with Down syndrome. Thanks for the opportunity!

  12. Jen SaeOng says:

    I have a 13 month old son with Down syndrome and gobble these stories up. It helps to remind me that we all have different experiences and that they are all beautiful journeys.

  13. Wendy Hoffman says:

    Our 5th was born 2 years ago and we had a surprise birth diagnosis! What a great surprise!!

  14. I would really like to read this book. I am originally from Ukraine and my youngest son (9months) has Down Syndrome. He was born in US.

  15. Bridget McCarthy says:

    What a blessing it is for people to have the courage to put their true feelings into words to share with the world. A true blessing, indeed! (I also appreciate the other books you noted in the Keep Reading Section. Thank you!!)

  16. Becky Kligora says:

    I would love to read your book! I’m a Down Syndrome Momma too, and autism, and diabetes, and celiac, and…well it really doesn’t matter because he’s a person before a diagnosis. Thanks for sharing your story with others!

    1. Love Gillian’s honesty in writing, sensitivity to life and love for her kids. i can not wait to read this book! i have a feeling this is but the beginning of a life’s work! 🙂

  17. Brittany Parsley says:

    I would love to read this. I am due in jan with a little girl who will have Down syndrome. Thanks for sharing!

  18. I’m currently 21 weeks pregnant with identical twin boys who were diagnosed with T21 at 16 weeks. I am still very new to this community and still adjusting to the thought of having TWO children with DS. I’m sure this book will be very helpful in putting it all in perspective.

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