Monday, October 3, 2011

Review of Junonia by Kevin Henkes

Henkes, Kevin.  Junonia.  Greenwillow, 2011.

The world of an only child is filled with grown-ups, or at least that's the case for Alice during an annual vacation in Florida.  Generally there are other kids as well, but not this year, the year she is turning 10 years old.  This year, the only other kid is the problematic Mallory, the 6-year-old daughter of Alice's Aunt Kate's new boyfriend.

So Alice spends her vacation, and her birthday, having attention lavished on her by the adults around her - but also having to be mature herself when relating to the troubled Mallory, who misses her far-away mom.  It's not always easy for Alice, who finds herself full of resentment and hurt when ancient Mr. Barden remarks that Mallory is the prettiest girl he ever saw.  But conquering her irritation and doing the right thing turns out to have its own rewards.

This is a quiet book on the surface, but full of the heaving emotions that can boil in sensitive people of any age, often unexpectedly or even inexplicably.  It feels a bit claustrophobic and intense at times; you just want Alice to be able to run along the seashore joyfully without being jostled about by currents of annoyance or sadness or disappointment or anger.  And she does, actually, but never for long - for small things do seem mighty fraught in Alice's life.  Perhaps it comes of being the only child of older parents and of having an aunt with no kids of her own, plus plenty of other adults in her life who spend a fair amount of their time thinking and caring about her.

The writing is beautiful and Alice's emotions are genuine and age-appropriate - but this feels like a grown-up book nonetheless.  Perhaps it was sentences like this one that took me out of Alice's head and made me feel like an adult observer - "She was loose jointed, and although she felt awkward much of the time, she often appeared graceful."  No kid would think about about herself or any other kid.

Thoughtful, introspective children may well feel that they've found a soul-mate in Alice, but even these kids may crave a tiny bit more action.

For ages 8 to 11.

1 comment:

  1. I think you just captured perfectly the sense I get from Henkes' novels that I can never convey when recommending them (to other adults). I love his novels, but I think I love them as a grown-up recognizing the awkward, sensitive kid I was in his protagonists. Between the gelato spoon incident and the doll, though, this book broke my heart (in the best kind of way).