Codes for Reviews

First Initial (Overall Rating):
E = Exceptional
VG = Very Good
G = Good
F = Fair
NR = Not Recommended

Second Initital (Reading Level):
A = Average Reading Level
E = Easy
M = Mature

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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Juniper Lemon's Happiness Index

Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index
Written by Julie Israel
Narrated by Abigail Revasch
Published by Penguin Random Audio Publishing Group
Publication Date: 2017
ISBN: 1524775223

This was a thoroughly enjoyable and poignant tale of a young girl navigating the trials and tribulations of adolescence. It also strives to go beyond the mere tropes of high school dramedy by trying to tackle a variety of emotionally-laden subjects. Subjects such as grief, loss, and soul-sapping depression. It offers up some pretty weighty and sensitive societal issues to the audience but manages to do so with an appropriate degree of tact and social responsibility.

The quick pitch: Juniper Lemon is pitched into a world of sorrow and bereavement when she survives a car crash that tragically takes her older sister’s life. Her parents are hobbled with grief and she herself is racked with unspeakable guilt over the whole ordeal. She eventually uncovers a mysterious letter written by her sister before the accident. A letter undelivered to a secret recipient. Racked with remorse, she undergoes a by-any-means mission to convey the letter to this unknown party. As this act becomes the last meaningful link she has to her dearly departed sister.

The narrative paces along at a manageable momentum and endeavors to keep the audiences’ attention rapt throughout. The protagonist is vulnerable and endearing but manages to muster enough spunkiness to overcome seemingly the whole weight of the world on her shoulders. This is a character that many should be able to identify with quickly and feel knee-jerk compassion for. She’s being dragged through the emotional wringer. But she comes out the other side stronger and a fully-realized character for it.  

The side characters also all contribute meaningfully to the story. Juniper undertakes an epic internal journey that takes her through an array of emotional peaks and valleys. And along the way she recruits an eclectic motley of sidekicks to help her find the way. And each and every one just as richly-textured and complex as the main protagonist. It’s a riveting cortege of characters and friendship quickly becomes another enduring theme by book’s end. 

Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index can be likened to Mean Girls meets Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. The shifting from teen-rom-com to intense character profile of pain and melancholy is seamless and no easy course to slalom. But the author manages it well here. The performance of the reader is superb. She does a fine job of sprinkling the right amount of voice-quiver and reticence into the title character of Juniper. You just want to take her voice and drape a blanket over it and comfort, “Everything’s going to be okay.”

All in all, by-the-books Young Adult machinations. Perfect for a multitude of demographics.  

Tommy Bui, Inglewood Public Library

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