Junonia by Kevin Henkes
Alice always celebrates her birthday on Sanibel Island in a beach cottage named Scallop. This annual vacation from winter in Wisconsin is filled with the familiar. Her parents accompany her, her aunt stays with them, and their neighbors in Sanibel are people she considers her extended family. But this year, when Alice is turning 10, nothing is familiar. First, some of her beloved neighbors do not come to Florida this year. Then her Aunt Kate joins them along with her new boyfriend and his daughter, Mallory. The entire vacation is thrown into chaos in Alice’s eyes, as she struggles to accept the changes and the new situation that is so different from her planned perfection of a trip.
This short novel looks deep into Alice as she searches for perfection embodied by the junonia shell that she has not yet found. This deep look is not always flattering for Alice, as she can be jealous, petty, and prickly at times. Yet the book speaks to acceptance of the reality of life and not constantly seeking the perfect birthday, the perfect day, the perfect circumstances. It would never have worked as a novel to have Alice be an ideal protagonist. Instead, seeing her with her flaws allows readers to see themselves in her. It is a beautiful, quiet point Henkes is making.
Henkes writes of emotions with great detail, capturing Alice’s many moods. He manages to put a name on the feeling and then create imagery that builds beyond that label. In other words, he is carefully creating a book that children can read and understand, but that will lead them on into something deeper as well.
Henkes also captures Sanibel and its beaches and wildlife with beautiful imagery. The images are ones that children will relate to. Here is one of my favorites from Page 49:
“From their table on the deck at the restaurant, Alice could see the ocean perfectly. And the sunset. The sky and the sea were full of colors – yellow, peach, pink, blue, green, purple. The water was like liquid color, like melted glass swirling around.”
This book is about big things understood through small. It is about emotions, acceptance, forgiveness, disappointment and delight. It is about life. Appropriate for ages 8-11.
Reviewed on digital galley format from HarperCollins via NetGalley.