I’ve mentioned before that I seem to have read a startling number of books about people with dead sisters. Juniper Lemon’s happiness index is yet another one of those. I bought it at YALC, after drinking copious amounts of lemonade, and weighing myself down with many, many books. I read it a few weeks ago, realising that I didn’t yet have an author with an I surname checked off on my list, and that Julie Israel would fill that gap.
It’s hard to keep close a person everyone keeps telling you is gone.
It’s been sixty-five painful days since the death of Juniper’s big sister, Camilla. On her first day back at school, bracing herself for the stares and whispers, Juniper borrows Camie’s handbag for luck – and discovers an unsent break-up letter inside. It’s mysteriously addressed to ‘You’ and dated July 4th – the day of Camie’s accident. Desperate to learn the identity of Camie’s secret love, Juniper starts to investigate.
But then she loses something herself. A card from her daily ritual, The Happiness Index: little notecards on which she rates the day. The Index has been holding Juniper together since Camie’s death – but without this card, there’s a hole. And this particular card contains Juniper’s own secret: a memory that she can’t let anyone else find out.
I really enjoyed this book. Like, really enjoyed it. I started it late one night, just before I went to bed, and then absolutely failed to put it down until it was 4am, and I was turning the last page, tears drying on my face, and trying desperately not to count how few hours it was until I had to get up again.
Juniper’s story of dealing with the loss of her sister, her partner in crime, her buddy, is really beautifully written, and wonderfully portrayed. Taken suddenly, without any chances beforehand to say goodbyes, Juniper is struggling to deal with her relationships with friends and family, as they no longer know how to deal with the family of four becoming a family of three.
When Juniper finds a letter addressed to ‘You’, and loses a notecard with a secret written on it, she embarks on two simultaneous projects – to find the notecard, and to find You. Along the way she also discovers new nice boy next door, the bad boy who’s been lurking in the background, and a few new friends who have their own issues to deal with.
The mystery (and memory) of finding out who You is was a wonderful metaphor for dealing with grief, and the lack of closure that often comes with it.
My two main complaints about this book were 1) It was a little predictable in terms of a big reveal near the end of the book and 2) there was very little of Juniper dealing with her parents, and their grief as a family, which I would have liked more of.
However, this is a really lovely book, with some great banter, a sweet romance, heavy topics dealt with deftly, and a happy/sad ending that made me smile and cry at the same time.
This is Julie Israel’s debut novel, and I will definitely be looking out for more from her in the future, because her writing style is the perfect blend of humorous and heartbreaking.