“A Million Junes” by Emily Henry is a tender young adult story about a girl and a boy who fall in love. But their romance is marred by family friction. This “Romeo and Juliet” family feud goes back generations, and no one knows exactly what started it.
The magic, though, begins on the first page in the very first sentence when the main character, June, says, “From my bedroom window, I watch the ghost flutter.” And this ghost is not the only ghost who lives within the pages of the story. Feather, as this pink, benign ghost is called, has a more sinister counterpart. Nameless is the dark ghost with no name who haunts both June’s family and their neighboring enemy – Saul Angert’s family.
The story tells about the magical cherry tree which sets the stage for a book that is filled with magic. It’s also filled with love and loss, and at one point, when June and Saul are talking about what happens when a loved one dies, June reflects on the universal nature of loss:
“When people pity you, it’s like they honestly don’t realize the exact same thing’s coming for them. And then I feel embarrassed and uncomfortable and have to pity them, because, like, do you not realize it’s always someone’s turn? You haven’t noticed everyone gets a few blows that seem so big you can’t survive them? And then here is this person looking at you and dramatically murmuring, I’m sorry for your loss. And you have to look at them and hope your eyes aren’t saying, Don’t be too sorry. you’re next. You have to spend all this energy making your face say, Yes, it’s horrible, and extremely rare. I can’t believe I was the person who lost my father. You certainly won’t lose anyone. You’ll die first, out of everyone you love, on the eve of your hundredth birthday.”
Part of the legend is that the families live where a wolf and a coyote lay down with a robin perched on them — all peacefully living together. In fact, the offspring, the coywolves, never harm the chickens who roam the O’Donnell property safely. Except when something dangerous is in the wind, and that’s when the coywolves kill. When Nameless seems ready to wreak horror on the families, the coywolves kill an animal, a rabbit or chicken, and then the families know that one of them will face a tragedy. And when one family member has something tragic happen to that person, the other family also experiences loss.
The novel is filled with lovely sub-stories — tall tales that June’s father told her about his life and the lives of all the Jacks before him. June’s actual name is Jack, Jack O’Donnell IV. But she is also called June and Junior, and she believes her father’s tall tales until she begins to actually see them. The Whites, floating balls of fluff, take on magical properties and transport June — and Saul, also, at times — to memories of past events going back to the time of the first Jack.
The mystery is what happened to cause the rift in the families. Although they were never close, what made them hate and fear each other? June and Saul are determined to find out because unless they discover what caused it, they can’t stop it. And their lives may be in danger.
The first person narrative helps the reader understand what June is thinking, and her voice is snarky, loving, and honest. Her best friend, Hannah, is the ideal best friend.
Henry’s characters are almost all flawed in some way, but strong and lovely in others. From meeting June’s stepfather Toddy to her mother, and the cast of others who care about June, the reader will realize that there are many types and demonstrations of love and all of them are precious.
You’ll enjoy Henry’s writing style; her descriptions and her dialogue are beautiful and unique. The story is charming and certainly a much different take on Romeo and Juliet than seen before in young adult fiction. But most of all, in spite of the violence that is also in the story, the tender nature of the lives and loves of the generations shines through, and the reader realizes that sometimes horrible acts are perpetrated in the name of love. Those acts might very well have repercussions that last for generations.
This is a book that can be enjoyed by adults and young adults alike. It is probably not appropriate for middle grade readers because of the adult nature of some of the sections and the teenage drinking. Appropriate for ages 13 and up.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Razorbill, the publisher, for review purposes.