It’s hard to keep close a person everyone keeps telling you is gone.
Whispers follow until I duck into an alcove beside the stairs. Alone at last at a tucked-away table, I cross “ID Card” off my Back-to-School Orientation List and resume doodling at the edges. Normally I’d have bounced from this fun house by now, but alas- today Dad had plans. These involve me “hanging out” with my peers before class starts tomorrow, which is why he left me here to die socialising while he ran errands.
Great Plan, Dad.
I finish a garden of curls and accents around my name, and have just paused to add tallies to
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This is such a heartwarming YA contemporary novel that provides poignant messages about friendship, family and grief, all contained within Julie Israel’s smart and funny writing.
Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index follows the eponymous protagonist following the death of her older sister Camilla. We pick up the story 65 days after the accident and follow Juniper as she attends school like any other teenager. Yet what Juniper does that is different to her classmates is that she documents each day on index cards, logging both the positives and negatives for each day. Unfortunately, day 65 holds a secret for Juniper, and is lost in the opening of this novel. Not only that, but Juniper finds a secret love letter written by her sister to the mysterious You. The story follows not only her search for the index card, and her sister’s secret lover, introducing us to some interesting characters throughout.
I’m not going to call this story a mystery, because it isn’t entirely. There is an element of mystery as we are in the same position as Juniper, through first person narration, in not knowing who You is or where her card has gone. But this is truly a coming of age story. This is about learning how to grieve effectively, for the most part, as Juniper’s family life has been torn apart by the loss of her sister. Her mother locks herself away in her room and her father walks on eggshells, trying to avoid mentioning Camilla.
But it’s also about friendship, and the bonds between people that grow in the face of adversity. The friends Juniper makes throughout the book are varied and interesting, from Nate, the good-looking friendly guy you expect to be the love interest, to Kody who’s a huge fan of books, Angela who loves friends and a guy called Sponge. These characters drive the story in a different way than her quest to find the aforementioned items. These people show Juniper different parts of herself. But mostly they show us her desire to help people. And this becomes a slight problem.
PLEASE BE AWARE THE NEXT SECTION MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
There is another character in this book called Brandon, Brand for short. And he is the typical bad boy who smokes and wears a lot of leather with longer hair. As much as I dislike the trope of the bad boy and the good girl, the dialogue between him and Juniper is perfect. They are funny and cleverly constructed, with little hints here and there to their intentions.
And I am so glad that Brand is the love interest. I won’t lie about that to anyone. Nate is a nice guy, and that’s it. I know a lot of people will probably think that Juniper and Nate should be together at the end of the novel, but actually I think her being with Brand makes much more sense. They both have pain in their lives and they seek each other out to avoid that pain.
The one thing I will say I was concerned about towards the end. Brand becomes a bit of a dick. All because Juniper wants to help. Brandon’s father is abusive and Juniper really wants to talk to someone about it but he makes her swear otherwise. This is where her wanting to help backfires on her. Brand gets angry and rather than just not saying anything and continuing to drive them back to where they need to be and talking about it when they get back, he swerves off the road, stops, grabs her arm and then tells her to fuck off out of his car. For someone who has shown no abusive tendencies up to this point, from that familial background, to do this seems a little out of character.
That is however one of the only qualms I have about this book. The ending does feel a little rushed for me, and I would’ve liked more of a rounding up of the loose ends, but overall I think that Israel did a fantastic job of creating a contemporary novel that deals with difficult life situations without feeling too heavy or lethargic. The pace is spectacular, moving through almost an entire year in less than 350 pages, and still manages to raise important questions.