Thursday, 16 August 2018

#CBR10 Book 59: "A Million Junes" by Emily Henry

Page count: 398 pages
Rating: 4 stars

From Goodreads:
Romeo and Juliet meets One Hundred Years of Solitude in Emily Henry's brilliant follow-up to The Love That Split the World, about the daughter and son of two long-feuding families who fall in love while trying to uncover the truth about the strange magic and harrowing curse that has plagued their bloodlines for generations. 

In their hometown of Five Fingers, Michigan, the O'Donnells and the Angerts have mythic legacies. But for all the tall tales they weave, both founding families are tight-lipped about what caused the century-old rift between them, except to say it began with a cherry tree.

Eighteen-year-old Jack “June” O’Donnell doesn't need a better reason than that. She's an O'Donnell to her core, just like her late father was, and O'Donnells stay away from Angerts. Period.

But when Saul Angert, the son of June's father's mortal enemy, returns to town after three mysterious years away, June can't seem to avoid him. Soon the unthinkable happens: She finds she doesn't exactly hate the gruff, sarcastic boy she was born to loathe. 

Saul’s arrival sparks a chain reaction, and as the magic, ghosts, and coywolves of Five Fingers conspire to reveal the truth about the dark moment that started the feud, June must question everything she knows about her family and the father she adored. And she must decide whether it's finally time for her—and all of the O'Donnells before her—to let go.

First of all, must all forbidden love between the children of antagonistic families be compared with Romeo and Juliet? Will this play always be the template for forbidden love, no matter how different all other aspects of the stories being compared? It annoys me. Anyway, about this actual book. The comparison to One Hundred Years of Solitude is more accurate, although I wouldn't say that they're very close either. But this is a story that features magical realism, and the story of several generations of two families, plus a lot of odd and inexplicable behaviour from local animals.

Our poor heroine, who is in fact the fourth Jack O'Donnell of her family, despite being a girl (and mostly goes by June) has always been told that she must stay away from the Angerts. However, her best friend has a crush on Saul Angert, who has recently returned after three years away, and insists on dragging June along on a strange sort of double date. While both June and Saul know from their family history that they should stay away from one another, there is undeniable attraction between them.

One of the aspects of the "family curse" that the O'Donnells experience seems to be that they can't really travel too far away from their home and the apple tree there. So while June's mother and supportive stepfather (her dad is dead) would like her to think about college, June hasn't really considered this to be an option for her. Yet she signs up for a creative writing class run by a new teacher and becomes almost obsessed with doing well in it, trying to write down the family legends, told to her by her father before she died. While her stories clearly have promise, her writing teacher wants her to improve her craft, and Saul, whose father is a NYT bestselling author (and constantly sarcastically referred to as such by Saul) offers to tutor her to make her writing better.

Both June and Saul have been told to stay away from each other their entire lives (because the O'Donnells and Angerts have been enemies for four generations, and that's just the way it has to be) and that they must never go to the waterfall in the woods. June keeps seeing visions of her dead father, and after a while, she and Saul discover that they can both see pieces of their pasts (he sees his dead twin sister) and they start to piece together what actually happened way back in the past that led to the generations long feud and cursed both families. They are both very invested in getting to the bottom of the curse's origins and figuring out a way to break it, so they can have the possibility of a future together.

I really liked June (she also goes by Jack and Junior, what with being Jack O'Donnell IV) and Saul, as well as their sidekicks (June's BFF Hannah is especially great), not to mention June's family. The first three quarters of the book were engaging and kept me entertained, but in the final quarter, where the mystery finally starts to unravel and June and Saul work to break the curse, the storytelling became a bit of a mess and the whole dramatic resolution to the story went a bit off the rails. Overall, the book was a nice, quick read, though and a lot of the writing advice that June gets from Saul and her creative writing teacher is stuff that I may shamelessly steal and use when trying to coax my own future students into becoming better and more entertaining writers. This is my first book by Emily Henry, but I doubt it will be my last.

#CBR10Bingo: Listicles. From FYA's "Swoony YA books for your next Beach Vacation"

Judging a book by its cover: In the acknowledgements, Emily Henry thanks the cover designer for doing a great job. I cannot say I agree with her. This appears to be a blurry stock photo of a waterfall in the woods, with a badly cut out silhouette of a girl awkwardly stuck on top of it. This is not a cover that would make me want to pick up a book, rather the opposite.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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