Book Review: Junonia
- Title: Junonia
- Author: Kevin Henkes
- Publisher: Greenwillow Books (imprint of Harper Collins)
- Date of Publication: 2011
- Genre: Middle Grade Fiction
- Rating: 4 out of 5
Brief Overview: Every February Alice Rice and her parents vacation on Sanibel Island, Florida, the week of her birthday. They stay in the same cabin, surrounded by the same vacationing families every year. This year, however, is special as Alice will turn ten; double digits is a major turning point in a child’s life, and Alice has great expectations. She has collected shells for years and desires more than anything to find the rare Junonia shell to help celebrate this milestone birthday.
Brief Review: The story is not an action adventure, but rather a leisurely stroll through the week as Alice learns to accept the inevitable disappointments in life. There is conflict, to be sure, but more internal struggles rather than outward challenges. Alice must learn to accept herself rather than focus on the beauty mark that she considers “ugly”. She must learn to navigate feelings of jealousy and selfishness when confronted with a young girl who joins the family on her special day. As an only child, Alice needs to develop creativity and imagination to prevent loneliness. And Alice learns the value of persistence and perseverance as she never loses sight of her goal: finding the prized Junonia shell.
I was first intrigued by this book because it took place on Sanibel Island… where I took my husband for a surprise 40th birthday celebration. The favorite pastime of the island is shelling, and I have had a love of seashells since seventh grade (I even wrote my first research paper on this topic).
But it was the author’s writing style that held my attention. Alice may be young, but she has a well-developed vocabulary and a rich thought-process. If I were to assess her personality, I would say that she is an introvert who enjoys spending time in self-discovery. In other words… she is a lot like me.
I particularly enjoyed the author’s use of words. In the beginning, Alice ponders family names, and the definition of wordsmith came to mind – the way she plays with letter arrangement and deeper insight:
- Alice thought her parents’ names suited them. Tom, the name, was short and solid, like her father. And Pam, spelled backward, was map. Her mother always seemed to have the answers, seemed to know what to do. (6)
- Alice thought that a brother would have made her family complete, especially a brother named Eric, because Eric and Rice have the exact same letters. (7)
The author also illustrated “show don’t tell” by using fresh and inventive metaphors and similes:
- clouds, like shredded rags, were scattered across the sky (23)
- Sun reached the water. Sun glinted like silver stitches fastening the sea to the sky. (159)
A learned much about writing for this particular audience by reading this book. I learned that short sentences do not necessarily mean simplistic; I do not have to write “down” to these students, I just need to write for them. I learned that inventive language and expressive details are necessary for all readers. And I learned that a sweet story about everyday life presents its own compelling conflicts.