“Letting go is not forgetting. It’s opening your eyes to the good that grew from the bad, the life that blooms from decay.”
For as long as Jack “June” O’Donnell has been alive, her parents have had only one rule: stay away from the Angert family. But when June collides—quite literally—with Saul Angert, sparks fly, and everything June has known is thrown into chaos.
Who exactly is this gruff, sarcastic, but seemingly harmless boy who has returned to their hometown of Five Fingers, Michigan, after three mysterious years away? And why has June—an O’Donnell to her core—never questioned her late father’s deep hatred of the Angert family? After all, the O’Donnells and the Angerts may 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.
As Saul and June’s connection grows deeper, they find that the magic, ghosts, and coywolves of Five Fingers seem to be conspiring to reveal the truth about the harrowing curse that has plagued their bloodlines for generations. Now 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 the O’Donnells before her—to let go.
A Million Junes took me quite by surprise in the best way possible. I was mildly interested when I first heard about it as being a YA romance about star-crossed lovers reminiscent of Romeo & Juliet and I picked it up expecting a cute, quick read. And for a little while it seemed my expectations were fulfilled because there is an abundance of quirky banter and teenage crushes. Yet it turned out to be so much more than that. It is striking how much this book was packed with a purpose, a real reason for being written. It is a romance, true, but as a whole it’s really more about the aftermath of the loss of a loved one and how grief makes its mark on people. It was quietly profound and deeply moving in a way that goes so far beyond the boundaries of genre.
As far as magical realism goes, Henry has it nailed. Magic is so flawlessly blended into the real world that it exists without question. I finished the book feeling like I should expect to see floating white orbs of memory and ghosts in my own house. And her writing was just so hauntingly beautiful. She contrasts an informal and youthful first person point of view with timeless, poetic prose. Some people struggle to enjoy purple prose but personally I love it when it’s done right. And Emily Henry has got it so right. It’s not so over the top that it’s distracting – just enough to lull me into a whimsical daze.
All stylistic considerations aside, the biggest impact the book makes is how it deals with personal tragedy. Henry’s private life is none of my business but at times I wondered if she has experienced firsthand the loss of a loved one because she writes some perfect examples of how to talk to someone who is grieving or enduring a major struggle. Like she really gets it and has maybe felt the sting of a wellmeaning friend who says all the wrong things. Whether or not she actually has, her insight rings true. Pay attention, because this is so important.
“I’m sorry. I’m useless, but I’m here.”
“‘Another sorry’s nothing,’ I say. ‘I’d give you something better if I had it.'”
This. This is how you support someone in grief. I almost put the book down to give a real applause for how well Ms. Henry has put it into words. There is nothing one can say or should say to ease the pain of someone who has lost a loved one, no matter how much you care. You simply cannot fix a broken person. Ms. Henry beautifully shows how June and Saul are just there and saving space for each other. They give each other infinite time to heal or acknowledge that they may never feel better and that’s normal. I just loved this dynamic and it speaks of pure acceptance.
It definitely isn’t a perfect book at every moment – some scenes could have been edited out and it almost loses focus midway through when it jumps around through random family memories without any apparent connection. But I am so glad I stuck with it because when it all became clear in the end it hit me like an emotional punch to the gut, followed by the feeling of being wrapped in a warm embrace.
For anyone who has had to deal with more than their fair share of loss or heartbreak, this book is for you. And for everyone else, a lesson in how to be a true friend to someone who has experienced tragedy.
My rating: 4/5 stars
Author: Emily Henry
Publisher: Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Random House
Genre: Young adult, romance, magical realism