Book Review: The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones by Daven McQueen

Today is Juneteenth. What is Juneteenth, you ask? Good question. I’m a 38 year old Caucasian women of Dutch descent and just heard about Juneteenth on social media this week. 38. Years. Old. and I knew nothing about a holiday that reflects on an important aspect of Black history, when¬†Union Soldiers arrived in Texas with the news that the war had ended and that the¬†enslaved were now free. I probably can’t do justice in explaining all the details of significance, so I’m going to tell you to Google (or, click here) and then ponder what it would be like to find out you were emancipated 2 1/2 years before you were told. Two. and. a. half. years. I’ll never clearly be able to understand or relate. Lord knows, we’ve come a long way since then, but in all honesty, I don’t think we’ve come nearly far enough. There’s still a lot of hate and inequality in this world and that needs to change. We need to do better. We need love. We need hope. We need people to speak up and speak out and stand up for their friends and neighbours.

One of the most heartrendingly beautiful books I’ve ever read

This post isn’t actually a history lesson, or a conversation on civil rights, but a book review. Seriously. I requested “The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones” more than three months ago. I downloaded the ARC in February. A few days ago, I decided Young Adult fiction might be the right tonic to get out of a reading slump as *sometimes* (but not always) YA fiction can be a little lighter or less complex. As this title was released this week, I thought I’d give it a go. I was mistaken in thinking it might be light (although there were shimmers of brightness throughout) or less complex. I’ll be purchasing the book for re-reads this weekend.

The novel throws you back to 1955, where you’ll land in small-town Alabama. The narrator is Ethan Harper, a biracial child who’s had some trouble at school and is sent to live with his white Aunt and Uncle in a community that is anything but tolerant. He’s befriended by the strange and lovable oddball title-character, Juniper Jones. Juniper has decided that the summer of ’55 will be the most epic ever, and doesn’t really give her new accomplice a choice but to join her, and their adventures are recounted in beautiful, immersive writing.

There is a lightness and hope that is weaved throughout their summer, but also a heaviness and complexity that comes with the illumination of racial tensions and the wrong-mindedness of the era. You cannot help but to fall in love with Juniper and feel a tenderhearted affection towards her. On the other hand, your heart will break for Ethan over and over again – you’ll want to draw him into a protective bubble and shelter him from the hatred he encounters while wanting to bash some sense into his adversaries. This book will swallow you whole, chew you up, spit you out, and leave you with big emotions to process, but it also brings to light some very unfortunate aspects of history, while balancing the strength and value of true friendship.

The author weaves some unexpected moments in and you’ll be gasping for air as you bawl your eyes out more than once. It’s one of the most heartrendingly beautiful books I’ve ever read. It’s recommended for 12 & up (grades 7 – 9) and the author, Daven McQueen, acknowledges that difficult subjects are broached and offensive terminology is used. While I would recommend it unabashedly, if you have a particularly sensitive tween/teen, you may want to read it first, and then use it as a platform for conversation afterwards. For myself, it was a 5 star read for sure and most definitely one of, if not my most, favourite books of 2020.

My thanks to the author and publisher for the complimentary title via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.

Published by: Wattpad Books
Publication Date: June 16, 2020

Book Review: The Forgotten Home Childby Genevieve Graham

There are so many things I love about The Forgotten Home Child by Genevieve Graham. If I had a Must-Read in 2020 list, this would be the second title on it. (The first place holder hasn’t been reviewed yet because it doesn’t publish until late summer, but it is worthy of first place.) Maybe I need a Must-Read Fiction in 2020 list and this could go straight to the very top. It was that good by my recommendation.

Emotionally Moving

First thing I love about this one? The genre. Historical fiction will always hold a special place in my reader’s heart. Always. This novel is based on factual history, but the plot and characters are make-believe. It’s the type of historical fiction that made me do some very light research because I had no idea this had happened (and it left me feeling bereft and heartbroken on behalf of the children who left their homes, and even more so for those who were mistreated in what should have been a better life.)

Two, I love this title because it showcases an important piece of Canadian history, is set in Canada (and the UK), with recognizable destinations and landscapes and was written by a Canadian author. Score for familiarity.

Three, I loved the voice of this writer so much. It was so easy to read, engaging and emotional. I read some early feedback from others that felt certain aspects were sugarcoated – there are some mature, graphic situations (not graphic in actual content, graphic in theme). The author chooses to gloss over them (i.e. rape was not called rape) but I took the liberty of assuming this had more to do with keeping with the era than the author choosing to belittle such horrible events. She paints a highly illustrative struggle of the children in their new situations and also casts a fair light on the flaws in what should have been an excellent program. On the flip side, there is a balance in acknowledging that not all the children ended up in abusive positions and their lives were better for it.

This novel addresses chasms between classes, the heartbreak of stigma, the darkness of an era not far behind us. It’s presented in the retelling by a nonagenerian who has kept her history a secret until a fateful occurence sparks some questions from her family.

Overall, I found The Forgotten Home Child to be one of my all-time favourite reads. It was emotionally moving and enlightening. I am in awe of the resilience of the characters and saddened by this aspect of our history. It hits shelves on March 3rd so make a preorder or on publication day pick up a copy for yourself and let me know if you agree or disagree with my take.

I received an Advanced Readers Copy of this title courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.

Published by: Simon & Schuster Canada

Book Review: Code Name Lise by Larry Loftis

I am not a big fan of non-fiction. It can be so dreary and difficult to read. Give me fairy tales and love stories and make-believe any day. This is a review on a work very relevant to today. It is most definitely not fiction.

But Lindsey, if you don’t enjoy non-fiction why would you request such a title?

I asked myself the same question many times over the last few months. In fact, I downloaded the advanced copy of this book on April 12th. It was published May 9th. I reluctantly dug in this weekend.

The answer to the question above? Sheer curiosity. I am so glad I indulged this whim.Code Name: Lise” highlights the remarkable life of Odette Sansom, Britain’s most highly decorated WWII spy. A true story loaded with facts regarding an incredible woman. There was no drudgery involved in the reading.

While based on first-hand accounts, the author did a remarkable job of bringing factual information into a beautiful and exciting tale that will leave you in awe of the mission and the exploits and the incredible courage and humanity of a very normal woman. Perhaps not normal – Odette was almost unbelievably amazing – but normal, in that she was a wife and mother who just wanted to contribute something bigger than herself. Loftis presented her story richly and with colour, weaving a beautiful narrative through a terrible time in our history.

With Remembrance Day observed here in Canada today, I’m particularly glad I dove into this one. The timely reflection on the absolute sacrifice and suffering of people serving their country for a greater purpose at absolute cost to themselves was significant. The book was easy to read, yet painful, and evoked great emotion.

I would highly recommend this for anyone who has an interest in general WWII history and for those who enjoy fiction along these lines with romance and bravery (i.e. fans of The Nightingale.) Once you get into it, Code Name: Lise reads like fiction while being entirely based on fact. Incredible.

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a complimentary digital copy of this title for review. All opinions are my own. (Seriously. Go pick up a copy of this book!)