Friday, August 18, 2017

[Review] Juniper Lemon's Happiness Index by Julie Israel

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Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 308
Source: Giveaway
Genre: YA {Contemporary}

Violence | Sexual Content | Profanity

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My Rating

My thoughts

US Cover
Juniper Lemon's Happiness Index came highly anticipated for me. I love books that explore the grieving process after someone has lost a loved one. I also saw the US cover appear everywhere around release day, which only boosted my excitement for it. I'm still not all that fond of the US cover, and while the UK cover gives nothing away I prefer it for the pretty colour palette used. :) This book is just gorgeous! Now enjoy my ramblings, because my feelings for this one are a tad mixed.

Ever since Juniper Lemon's older sister died, the index cards marking her Happiness Index - the positives and negatives of every day, amounting to a measure of her overall happiness - have counted the days since. Every individual card marks another day. On day 65 she starts her first day back at school, and on that same day she loses her index card. On it, she's written her deepest, most shameful secret, so she will do anything and everything to find it. Meanwhile, her family is still not talking, about anything, buried under the heavy burdens of grief, and neither is her best friend.

First off, let me mention that I liked the idea of the index cards, and I liked the hilarity that ensues as a result of Juniper losing her Day 65 card. (I had a blast scouring through the school dumpster with her!) The whole thing was Juniper's big sister, Camie's, idea: to try and stave off Juniper's persistent pessimism. To try and look on the bright side of things. Now that she's gone, Juniper continues with the index cards, sort of as a way to remember her and honour her memory. Her parents also have their own ways of dealing with the massive hole that Camie left, and it was quite emotionally-draining to watch how broken this once-vibrant family had become. I think that Israel portrayed that feeling of emptiness and helplessness very realistically, but it was hard to read at times.

Juniper Lemon's Happiness Index manages to be a fairly light-hearted read despite the heavy subject content: death, domestic abuse, suicidal ideation, grief. I sped through this book and found it to be easy to get stuck into. There was a mystery aspect to it when Juniper discovers a breakup letter that her sister had written to a secret lover, undelivered before her death. I was aching to know who this guy was; Juniper becomes a girl obsessed, in more ways than one.

Let's talk about the characters.

I liked Juniper Lemon, though her ways of coping with her sister's death seemed quite unhealthy. But she has a good heart, which leads her to reach out and make some new friends at school. Her creative writing was brilliant; its inclusion into the narrative was welcomed.

Lauren, Juniper's best friend, does not know how to talk about what happened, so she avoids her. I'm sure that many friends do withdraw under these circumstances, but it was really unfair. Especially as a best friend. All that is left is this stilted awkwardness whenever they see each other, which had me squirming in my seat.

Then there's all of the new friends that Juniper makes: Kody, Angela, Sponge and Nate. I liked them, but they never jumped out at the page to me. I couldn't get much of a reading on them, didn't feel like we got to know them enough; I felt that the characterisation was lacking, so the characters aren't particularly memorable for me. But I did enjoy the interactions and dialogues that evolved into friendships and the like.

And then there's Brandon Sayers. I have such mixed feelings about him, like I kind of liked him, but then I also thought he was kind of weird? I couldn't shake the initial impression I had of him: he likes to burn things. But his destructive behaviour serves as a sort of shield so that no one ever really gets to know the guarded and sensitive person within. It was hard to fully understand him as a character, but I felt sympathetic to his situation. Some of the things he did were highly volatile and definitely a result of his unhealthy upbringing. I'm curious to know what would have happened to him afterwards.

Love is a central theme in this book: familial/sibling love, platonic love, and romantic love. The romance in this book was sweet at times, and some of their scenes were so cute that I couldn't help but smile, but I didn't manage to believe in the whole of it. I can't even fully place my finger on exactly why. I think I just didn't feel that romantic spark or chemistry between them? That said, I like that it developed slowly and it was definitely not a case of insta-love or love-at-first sight.

Lastly, the ending. All wrapped up neatly in a pretty bow. I felt like everything was resolved too easily, but I did like the lessons that Juniper learns: that she can't fix everything, and she has to be okay with letting some things go. I do like that her family start to open up and actually talk about Camie's death. Conversation is good.

All up, I finished reading this book feeling a little bit underwhelmed. I think I expected to feel more strongly: I only got teary once! However, I did enjoy reading this book and would recommend it if you're looking for a book that centres on sisterly bonds and dealing with grief.


First lines:

"The girl in the picture doesn't look any different.Things you see: brown eyes. Honey hair to the shoulders. Natural eyeliner.Things you don't: stitches. A neck brace.The sleep rings hidden beneath her makeup.I lower my new student ID card. My throat is tight with all the changes I carry, but don't find there. Still, I'm grateful not to wear them like a flag on my forehead: Ask me about my tragedy!There's enough talk without advertising.
Favourite lines:
"'If you had the chance . . . If you could see Camilla again, what would you say to her?'...'I would say . . .' The rain beats around us like a thousand hands; children laugh as they splash along trick-or-treat routes below. 'I love you.'I closed my eyes again.'I would tell her I'm sorry.'So, so sorry. (173)
"'Pain,' he says, squaring me to look him in the eye, and my bloodstream sparks and spins at his warm touch, 'is like the good times: something that comes and goes. There's nothing you can do about that. The important thing'--he draws a breath, and it's almost like he took it from me--'is to live each moment for what it is.' (243)

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INTERNATIONAL: Abe BooksBook Depository | Wordery

I have received this review copy in return for an honest review.

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