C.A. Collins’ "Sunshine Through the Rain" follows a feminist teen in the Deep South '60s


CA Collins and her book Sunshine in the Rain

Before the Civil Rights era, women couldn’t go to most Ivy League schools, get credit cards in their own names, or serve on juries in all 50 states.

So what was it like for a smart, headstrong young woman in 1960s era Deep South growing up in a family that wants her to either be a “Southern belle” or a tomboy?

C.A. Collins’ book Sunshine Through the Rain examines at that very question in the character of Christie Ann Cook, a wise-beyond-her-years teenager who speaks her truth as she comes of age during a period of extreme social change.

While the Concordia University grad and Michigan-based writer didn’t grow up in that era, Collins says, “I have always had an interest in those tumultuous years in the South. I raised in Louisiana where the 'n' word was the norm, but my parents taught me to judge someone by their character, not the color of their skin. In this book, I really wanted to show a young girl who had diverse people in her life that she loved and cared for and how she was torn between her small insular world and the uncertain bigger world around her.”

Sunshine’s protagonist, Christie, tries to find her place in that world and in her own home. Her mother wants her to be a traditional, “Southern” woman while her dad wants to make her into the son he always wanted. Thanks to the wisdom of the family’s housekeeper, Ernestine, Christie makes up her own mind as she grows from a teenager to young adult.

Readers follow Christie through national events such as the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, and personal events such as the rape of a college roommate and a racially charged murder.

“There are several instances in the book when Christie is faced with very tough dilemmas, such as the murder of Ernestine's young nephew by two white men," Collins says. "When Christie’s father testifies and helps put the men in prison, the family knows that he will be threatened and harassed for standing up for a black family but it’s the right thing to do. It becomes a teaching moment for Christie … setting the stage for many of her life decisions going forward.”

Watching Christie stand up and do what’s right is a key part of the book. Collins wrote the main character as a feminist so “young girls can read this book and know it’s OK to say ‘no,’ to stand up for yourself, not to be a doormat. If someone is doing something or saying something that makes you uncomfortable it is within your rights to shut that down immediately.  Never depend on someone else for your livelihood or your happiness. It's OK to throw a hissy fit sometimes to get your way.”

Before writing full time, Collins worked as a director at nonprofit agencies including the United Way and Habitat for Humanity. She is currently at work on a true crime book about a 1977 mid-Michigan murder that was never solved.

For now, Collins is thrilled with her debut novel from Page Publishing (a subsidiary of Simon & Schuster) and hopes that readers feel changed by the story.

“I want them to have a better understanding of race relations in the South," she says. "I want young girls to realize it is okay to be strong and outspoken. I hope this book shows that integrity and loyalty are two traits we should all strive for.”

Patti F. Smith is a special education teacher and writer who lives in Ann Arbor with her husband.

C.A. Collins will read from "Sunshine Through the Rain" on Wednesday, January 16 at 7 pm at Nicola’s.