Review: A Million Junes

“Two families.

Two Ghosts–one warm and sad, one cold and hungry.

Two tears in our world–one at an impossible tree and one in a starlit pool.

One curse, tying the puzzle together, and infinite memories holding the answer to what created the hungry darkness, the brutal cycle that will eventually swallow Saul or me.”

I love Book of the Month Club. I have been a member for over a year now, and though I have received some duds, I have also discovered surprising treasures that I may have never tried otherwise. A Million Junes by Emily Henry is one of those.

junesAs I was choosing my June BOTM pick, I saw several that I had heard quite a bit about, and I was interested in them.  Then, I saw the cover for A Million Junes, a novel that I had not heard of before. I promise I don’t always judge books by their covers, but this cover is stunning (seriously, that cover).  When I read the description, I thought it would be a lighthearted, fun, fantastical read perfect for summer. I wasn’t wrong. But, this book was so much more than I expected. I wasn’t prepared for my reaction. I never wanted A Million Junes to end.

In their hometown of Five Fingers, Michigan, the O’Donnells and the Angerts have mythic legacies. But for all the tall tales they weave, both founding families are tight-lipped about what caused the century-old rift between them, except to say it began with a cherry tree.

Eighteen-year-old Jack “June” O’Donnell doesn’t need a better reason than that. She’s an O’Donnell to her core, just like her late father was, and O’Donnells stay away from Angerts. Period.

But when Saul Angert, the son of June’s father’s mortal enemy, returns to town after three mysterious years away, June can’t seem to avoid him. Soon the unthinkable happens: She finds she doesn’t exactly hate the gruff, sarcastic boy she was born to loathe.

Saul’s arrival sparks a chain reaction, and as the magic, ghosts, and coywolves of Five Fingers conspire to reveal the truth about the dark moment that started the feud, June must question everything she knows about her family and the father she adored. And she must decide whether it’s finally time for her—and all of the O’Donnells before her—to let go.

After reading the description, I expected a Romeo and Juliet kind of story with a dash of magical realism. It is that kind of story…in a small way. The warring families and their history provide some of the suspense of the novel. But, what drives the story forward and what kept me turning the pages long into the night was its heart. This is a tender, poignant novel that made me laugh out loud and reach for the kleenex simultaneously. And I don’t often cry when I read novels. Some of the quietest moments made me catch my breath, and the writing is beautiful without being pretentious or overdone.

“Hannah’s laughter gets lost between the layers of sound, and I laugh, too, because that’s the way the lake air works: It carries the feelings you exhale into someone else’s inhalations, it syncs your heartbeats, connects you to everyone else who loves it like you do.”

As a reader, writer, and teacher of reading and writing, I am fascinated by stories and the choices we make when we tell a story. A Million Junes is very much a story about stories, about why they matter, about what is truth and lie, and about the very blurry lines between them. I loved this examination of how we hear stories, experience stories, and how we tell stories.

“Sometimes when we write about conflicts we’re still in the middle of, we produce great emotion, strong feelings, but the technical aspects of the story fall to the wayside, because we don’t understand the interconnectedness of all the elements of our own narrative yet.”

The novel spends quite some time focusing on families and relationships. We see June make sense of her relationships: with Saul, with her mother and step-father, her deceased father, and her best friend, Hannah. June and Hannah’s relationship is refreshing. Many novels (especially those for teen readers) pit women against women, even if they are friends. That isn’t the case with Hannah and June, though the novel plays with the trope of two friends interested in the same guy. Instead, their friendship is one of understanding, give and take, loyalty, and love.

What these relationships mean, however, is that June, like all of us who love someone, has so much to lose, and in the end, the novel is about grief and moving on without forgetting.

“I wanted to forget this feeling forever. The feeling of being ripped into two people: the you of before and the one you’ll always be once you know what it is to lose someone.”

Six months into the year, I have to say that A Million Junes is my favorite novel of 2017. It’s my favorite for all of the reasons above and for the fact that it’s about moments in life, both big and small moments that change our lives forever.

 

 

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