Saturday, September 24, 2011

Junonia Review

JunoniaJunonia by Kevin Henkes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some have called Junonia a disappointing book about disappointment, lacking excitement, humor, or endearing characters. Indeed, when I finished the book, I had to ask myself whether anything at all actually happened in the book.

Slowly I've come to understand that this is the point. Junonia is about nihilism, or at least it is about the emptiness and loneliness of a certain modern lifestyle.

Alice is the only child of two only children (Henkes is careful to point this out early in the book). Alice's life is devoid of conflict, excitement, and ultimately meaning. Henkes depicts family life in modern America within the framework of small family size, agnosticism, lack of any real danger, and abundance of the necessities of life.

The thing is, Alice doesn't even have the drama of flawed parents. They aren't over-protective, they aren't over-indulgent. They *are* level-headed, well-meaning, adept parents. They really love Alice and she really loves them. Alice has no room for real complaints and so must make up petty ones. Then again, what kid doesn't complain about petty things, or what adult for that matter?

So why, to Alice, does everything feel so fake? And if you bought a junonia shell rather than finding one on the beach...would that be just as meaningful? Who's to say? Furthermore, if nobody really knows whether there is a God, then why not just make up your own? And how come doing so doesn't seem to add any meaning to life?

Basically that's the point of the book. At first it appears to be a shallow book with flat characters, but I think really that it is a deep book about how shallow life can feel. The flatness of the characters is--how can I say this?--more than skin deep.

All of this is not to say that Henkes is a critic of small families, agnosticism, nor being a good parent. Henkes simply writes about the reality of the modern world and its consequences.

I see this book as touching a cord for children who come from similar situations as Alice, but this is pure speculation on my part since I was raised as a Christian in a large family by (forgive me, Mom) flawed parents. (Furthermore, I've not yet been to Florida). Still, there is something familiar to the story for anyone from affluent industrialized society.

The message that I take away from Junonia is: modern middle-to-upper class liberal western society is *not* going to produce an Anne Frank. On the other hand, unnecessarily adding danger, drama, or hardship to our lives certainly isn't going to solve anything.

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Kristen said...

I received the ARC for this and I never got a chance to read it. What with the move and all, and then I couldn't bring it to Egypt. To much weight.

lisha said...

Interesting. Honestly I have been thinking about the book all week I sill dont know how I feel about it. However I think you may be on to something, with your observations.

Jamie said...

Yeah, it wasn't until I started reading it a second time with the kids that I started to think there was something to the book. At first it just seemed like nothing really happened and the characters didn't really go anywhere. But the centrality of the search for a junonia with the fact that Alice's fake goddess is called Junonia make me think that there is some symbolism going on there. A fruitless but not completely hopeless search for God? Who knows?

Lura said...

Well, I haven't read the book, but I do like your review! Makes me want to read it.
Maybe I am just uber-emotional right now, but your brief request for forgiveness from Mom for admitting that she had flaws brought tears to my eyes.
Also, this review strangely made me miss you. I guess because it is so you. Noone else could have written it. Love you, Jamie.


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