Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Wattpad Books
Publication Date: June 16, 2020
My Rating: 5 out of 5 bookmarks
It’s the summer of 1955. For Ethan Harper, a biracial kid raised mostly by his white father, race has always been a distant conversation. When he’s sent to spend the summer with his aunt and uncle in small-town Alabama, his Blackness is suddenly front and center, and no one is shy about making it known he’s not welcome there. Except for Juniper Jones. The town’s resident oddball and free spirit, she’s everything the townspeople aren’t―open, kind, and full of acceptance.
Armed with two bikes and an unlimited supply of root beer floats, Ethan and Juniper set out to find their place in a town that’s bent on rejecting them. As Ethan is confronted for the first time by what it means to be Black in America, Juniper tries to help him see the beauty in even the ugliest reality, and that even the darkest days can give rise to an invincible summer. Daven McQueen’s Juniper Jones is a character for all ages in this sweet coming of age story set in 1950s Alabama.
I always knew reviewing this book would be a challenge. It’s one of those beautiful heart-breaking books which you come across every now and then, but remember forever. This book gave me complete John Green vibes and though I am not much for comparisons but you could also say that I’d place this book at par with Tuesday’s with Morrie and A Man Called Ove in terms of how much it makes one feel.
The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones is a beautiful coming of age story which revolves around racism, identity, family and friendship. It’s about an invincible summer planned out by two teenagers – Ethan Charlie Harper and Juniper Jones in the town of Ellison, Alabama. While Juniper is a town local, Ethan has been sent to spend his summer with his Aunt Cara and Uncle Robert as a punishment for getting into a fight with someone at school back home in Arcadia, Washington. Ethan’s punishment for the school scuffle is a long way away from the REAL issue – he is a biracial teenage boy in the year 1955, in a town like Ellison.
Ethan’s uncle decides to make him work at his Malt store during the morning shift when it isn’t crowded and when he can’t expect much trouble. Ethan is initially unaware of the logic behind it of course. But it is during one of those morning shifts that Juniper Starfish Jones comes twirling into his life like a colorful hurricane! From this point on, Ethan and Juniper are best friends! They’re inseparable and they – mostly Juniper – come up with an entire list of things they’d like to do to make the summer of 1955 the best summer they’ve ever had. To make it the most invincible summer ever!
Here are some of my favorite things they had on their list:\
1. Plant sunflower seeds all across town!
2. Spot and learn all the constellations in the night sky.
3. Try all flavors of milkshakes at the Malt store.
4. And finally, Juniper wanted to learn to swim
Juniper Jones – her name always reminds me of my favorite childhood fictional character, Junie B. Jones! What can I say about someone like Juniper Jones? What can anyone say about someone like Juniper Jones, someone who is so committed to joy! Someone whose presence and vivid imagination lights up everyone’s heart and soul, someone who is full of confidence and wonder! So I’ll describe her as Ethan did – “She hit him in the best way, like a rainstorm after five years of drought, healing the parched earth with a gentle touch; and in the worst way, like an unexpected earthquake, leaving dust and debris in her wake. She was, in equal parts, a gift and a natural disaster. Her name was Juniper Jones.” Someone with forest-fire hair and hurricane eyes! I don’t have a book boyfriend but really wish I can have a friend like Juniper Jones.
I haven’t shied away from complimenting this book so far but the story does have some triggers which I’d like to warn you about: racism and bullying; and I think the author has done brilliantly to address both these factors in her story. This book was truly an eye-opener for me in terms of the constant fear that Ethan and many like him probably live in. Quoting a part of the book where Ethan states the emotion – “I’m already scared, Juniper. I’ve been scared this whole time”. It was the first time he’d said it out loud, but it was true. For weeks in Ellison, Alabama, fear had been his default. Given the current circumstances and recent events, mainly in America, I think it is important for people of all backgrounds to be educated about the world outside their immediate surroundings.
Today as we try to be better allies, let us remind ourselves to also be empathetic towards each other – those who are still dealing with racism and those who are still learning to be better allies. Let this be a reminder for us all to read more about the emotions of people of color, especially those from the Black community, and push yourselves harder to learn more about their experiences. More importantly, at all times keep striving to be better than you were yesterday. Be kind. Be empathetic. Be willing to sit down and listen. Acknowledge your privilege and use it to raise people up and not hold them back, to make those unheard till now be heard loud and clear!
I recommend this book to EVERYONE, irrespective of your age, it doesn’t matter! It’s the perfect summer read this year and I promise you won’t regret picking it up, because this book made it to my list of top reads this year. It made me cry my eyes out and I am not one for crying usually, but if a book makes me cry, you know damn well it’s a brilliant book! I rate this book 5 invincible bookmarks out of 5!
I’d like to thank Michelle from The FFBC Tours, Wattpad Books and Netgalley for providing me with an e-ARC of this book in lieu of an honest review. I’d also like to congratulate the author Daven McQueen – who I got the wonderful opportunity to interview (read further) – for writing such a beautiful book!
An Interview with the author Daven McQueen
Daven McQueen grew up outside of Los Angeles, California. She graduated from Brown University, where she earned a B.A. in literary arts and economics. When she’s not writing, Daven can be found tap dancing, embroidering, cooking, and eating dessert. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts and works in education. In this interview Daven talks about what inspired her to write this book, her future book plans and even about some songs in her playlist! She also addresses racism – how far we’ve gotten but also how far we have to go. Read on to see what she has to say!
1. What was your inspiration behind writing The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones?
The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones started with me wanting to write a summer lakeside story. At the same time, I was realizing that pretty much everything I’d written up to that point had featured white characters, mostly because it’d always been indirectly signaled to me that that was what people wanted to read. I really wanted to start writing stories I could see myself in, so I decide to tackle both at once. The idea for an ‘invincible summer’ came from an Albert Camus quote that I loved at the time – “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.
2. Have you taken any real life inspiration for a character in this book? Which character did you have the most fun writing about?
A lot of Ethan’s inner dialogue grappling Black biracial identity is rooted in my own experience – although his personality, likes and dislikes, etc. are not. I loved writing Ethan, but the most fun character to write was definitely Juniper. She’s not like anyone I know and probably actually isn’t someone I would get along with very well in real life, but I love her commitment to joy and whimsy.
3. Do you want each book that you write further to stand on its own or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I’m almost certain that I want all my books to stand alone. The stories I’m interested in writing span genres and subjects and I’d like to treat each of them like their own world.
4. What was the hardest part about writing this book? Is there any scene which was particularly difficult for you to write about?
Later in the book, there’s a scene where Ethan visits his mother and they have a conversation about Blackness and the challenges that Ethan has faced and will face because of his identity. Writing that scene took a few tries – it was difficult to synthesize everything I wanted to say into a few pages, and to deliver it in a way that felt powerful and honest while also feeling like a true conversation between a parent and child.
5. What do you think racism is like for an Ethan Harper or a Juniper Jones in America today?
I imagine that someone like Juniper would really be able to find their people in the present day. Juniper would definitely be involved in racial justice activism and would have the resources to understand what being a good ally really looks like. Someone like Ethan would find it easier to exist now than then – but in the age of mass information, the naivete that he had early in the novel certainly could not exist. And I’m sure the exhaustion and frustration he feels in the summer of 1955 wouldn’t be gone. Because yeah, while it’s changed somewhat in the way it manifests, physical and emotional violence against Black folks is still alive and well.
6. Ending this interview on a lighter note, do you have a writer’s playlist? If yes, can you share some of the songs on it?
I have a playlist that I made years ago specifically for TISJJ, mostly jazz. I don’t think I would have chosen the same songs if I were making it now, but some lasting favorites include: “I’ll Be Seeing You” by Billie Holiday, “Moonlight Becomes You” by Ella Fitzgerald, and “Painter Song” by Norah Jones.