Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index
Written by Julie Israel
Published by Penguin
Age range: YA (13 +)
Publication date: 1st June 2017
(Note for parents/ teachers: Themes of grief, depression and domestic violence.)
Summary (from Goodreads):
It’s hard to keep close a person everyone keeps telling you is gone.
It’s been sixty-five painful days since the death of Juniper’s big sister, Camilla. On her first day back at school, bracing herself for the stares and whispers, Juniper borrows Camie’s handbag for luck – and discovers an unsent break-up letter inside. It’s mysteriously addressed to ‘You’ and dated July 4th – the day of Camie’s accident. Desperate to learn the identity of Camie’s secret love, Juniper starts to investigate.
But then she loses something herself. A card from her daily ritual, The Happiness Index: little notecards on which she rates the day. The Index has been holding Juniper together since Camie’s death – but without this card, there’s a hole. And this particular card contains Juniper’s own secret: a memory that she can’t let anyone else find out.
Another blank space.
I am haunted by them: the pause at Camie’s name. The gap in my Index. The sidesteps where she should be in conversations, but isn’t. Her empty chair at dinner; her toothbrush and her shampoo; her shoes from the entryway, her keys from the kitchen hook, her tea and favorite cereal from the cupboard.
I started reading this completely blind – I had heard the title mentioned in book blogging circles but avoided reading any reviews so I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
I was immediately drawn in by Juniper’s voice and I loved the idea of the index cards for tracking each day. It is clear very early on that she is muddling through handling grief, and so are her parents – but they are all dealing in such different ways that Juniper is left almost unsupported.
The friendships developed in this book were a real strong point for me, although I wasn’t convinced by Lauren’s reasons for disappearing after so many years of friendship. Brand, as a character, was extremely fun to read especially when he was saying one thing but doing another. I liked watching Kody develop her confidence too.
The mystery of the secret Camie was keeping before her death was, for me, never the main point of the book – yet it was the device through which Juniper gradually began to deal with her grief and move on.
Overall, a thoughtful contemporary novel with realistic, flawed characters, some beautiful turns of phrase that will make you think more deeply about what makes us human, what holds us together and tears us apart and what heals us after losing someone important.
What I liked: Juniper’s voice, her relationship with her sister, the friendships and how they were developed realistically.
Even better if: The romance was fine (I did love Brand and Juniper’s snarky conversations!), but I was a little uncomfortable with Brand dealing with all of his problems on his own and everyone around him not helping.
How you could use it in your classroom: Rather than using this as a class reader, it could be recommended to readers who might enjoy it. Books dealing with grief can be helpful and cathartic if someone has suffered a loss, but each person deals with it differently – as we see with Juniper, her parents and her classmates. For that reason, the most important thing is to know your pupils before making a recommendation for any book dealing with grief.
(Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin UK for my review copy)
Thanks for reading!