It's really no great shocker that in wrapping up my reviews before I take leave, this one would be the last one that I'd have to write. I've been allowing the story to brew and stew in my mind, and I'm still a bit tormented about what to say. I'd seen the reviews for this, but it was Melissa at Avid Reader's Musings that finally convinced me.
Synopsis: June Elbus is not your average fourteen year-old. She is socially awkward and shy, is in love with the medieval ages, and is pudgy. Her older sister is smarter, prettier, is popular and is destined for Broadway. The only one who understands Junie is her maternal uncle and godfather, artist Finn Weiss. When Finn dies of AIDS, Junie is left adrift, confused about her family's attitude towards Finn and Finn's "special friend", and confused at why her sister is so hateful towards her. She is all alone.
But then she strikes up a tentative relationship with Finn's partner Toby, and realizes that there is someone else out there that misses Finn as much as she does. Although her family believes that Toby was the one who killed Finn, Junie finds comfort and kinship with him.
With this intense debut novel, Brunt adeptly tells a coming-of-age story filled with friendship, loss, jealousy and healing.
My thoughts: It is very hard to sum up all the feelings that this story conjured. The whole coming-of-age thing is complicated and emotionally-loaded all by itself. Fourteen is a tough age when you are trying to figure out who you are, where you fit in, and what love is. My heart physically hurt for Janie.
But then you combine the whole stigma of AIDS in the 80's, with everyone trying to figure out the why and the how, and not being comfortable talking about it. I can't imagine navigating through that as a teenager.
For spice, we then throw in the hurt and anger and jealousy between Finn and his sister (Junie's mother), the hurt and anger and jealousy between Junie and her sister, the resentment of Junie and Finn's relationship, the anger and blame at Finn's partner? The frustration at being perfect, the frustration at being labeled weird, and the need for human connection?
This book? It's SAD, people, so much that it will break your heart. But it is also so tender, and the characters are so delicately drawn. And at the end, you can sit back and feel a sense of peace for where the author leaves us. So my advice is, don't let the dire subject matter drive you away from this one. It is a beautiful story.
A few words about the audio production: Our narrator for this audio was Amy Rubinate, who was a new voice for me. Apparently she has a full career in voiceovers for animation, video games, commercials, as well as a career on-stage. She has a very youthful sound, and is perfect to read for young protagonists.
Listening length: 11 hours and 46 minutes (368 pages)
4.5 out of 5 stars