"She hit him in the best way, like a rainstorm after five years of drought, healing the parched earth with a gentle touch; and in the worst way, like an unexpected earthquake, leaving dust and debris in her wake. She was, in equal parts, a gift and a natural disaster."
I suppose there's some irony in the fact that as I worked to catch up on my scheduled reads, 'The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones' by Daven McQueen, happened to come up at such a critical moment in history.
If you know me, you know that since I like to read as near to release date as possible.. by the time I get to most of my reads, I no longer remember the synopsis. I like beginning a story with a fresh set of eyes and no presumptions.. just letting it unfold as I make my way through it.
In hindsight, I vaguely remember being concerned about requesting it because I've only read one Wattpad writer and that was less than a great experience. McQueen has certainly shown me the level of skill in that community is diverse, however.. as this is a well-sculpted story, full of heart and tempered with sadness.
"All of this really fits in the trees?"
"..I told you: it's magic."
The story revolves around a sixteen-year-old boy named Ethan Harper, the son of a biracial couple, in the summer of 1955. His father decides that it seems like a solid idea for Ethan to spend the summer with his aunt and uncle in smalltown Alabama, where the majority of the residents are filled with ignorant prejudices and disapproval for anyone they don't feel 'blends in.'
Having come from a city in Washington, Ethan is already miserable just dealing with the sudden isolation. He doesn't know his aunt and uncle and they don't seem welcoming either. He's got nothing but a few comic books and some records to attempt to make the place feel like home, and he's expected to work at his uncle's malt shop to earn his keep. He has a relatively innocent perspective which comes to a screeching halt in Ellison.
During one of his lonely morning shifts, in comes Juniper Jones. She's wildly creative and full of life.. a veritable force of nature.. and she decides upon meeting him that they're going to be best friends and have an invincible summer adventure together.
"Trying doesn't make me feel safe here. And I guess I just think there's only so much trying you all can do. There are some things about me and my life that you'll never understand."
What develops between them is a beautiful, sometimes complicated relationship. While the townspeople leer at him, making horrendous comments about his presence and the neighborhood bullies do their best to torment him, she's busy trying to counter all that with as much kindness and warmth as she can muster.
It's important to note, I think.. that there is indication he isn't targeted as openly as someone who lived in the town before him. Both due to his familial history with the town and his lighter skin tone, it's stated that he isn't made to suffer as much as he might otherwise, but what he does suffer is horrible.
Overall, it's a story with plenty of joy and plenty of darkness. There's grief and sorrow. There's a sea of hate threatening to drown Ethan and even those who mean well, who seem to care.. don't really understand, which means they screw up too. There are definitely times that either well-meaning uninformed intentions or just plain ignorance to what it's like to be black, end up causing him pain too. I think the truth of their journey would have ended differently, but that's a tragedy real people are living with everyday.
"..while I don't love the idea of you getting into fights... sometimes you need to be angry. A lot of the time, these days, you need to be angry."
Honestly, there are a ton of sad stories like this, more devastating stories than the one found in this book.. actual experiences stretching back through generations. Unfortunately, this kind of thing isn't a rare occurance at all. It's still everywhere. As a society, we like to turn our heads and pretend everything is okay, but we're far from okay and that should be pretty apparent across the world right now.
If you read this book.. I recommend it.. I hope you take a couple of things away with you. One.. no matter how much you think you comprehend of the reality someone else is living, unless you've lived it too.. you actually don't understand. And two, sometimes anger is not only justified.. it's necessary.