Published by Kathy Dawson Books on May 30th 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Family, Young Adult
Pages: 320 •Format: Hardcover •Source: Gifted
Brevity is the only way to deliver a sting, so here goes—
I’ve been thinking about what you said and I’ve decided that you’re right: It would be better for both of us this way…
Sixty-five days after the death of her older sister, Juniper Lemon discovers the break-up letter addressed to “You” Camilla wrote the day she died. Juniper is shocked—she knew nothing of her sister’s relationship, and now the hole Camilla left in her life feels that much bigger. She’s determined to uncover You’s identity and deliver Camie’s letter. Maybe, just maybe, that would help fill the sister-shaped void Camilla left behind.
But what Juniper doesn’t expect is that the search for You will lead to learning other people’s secrets: private crushes, shames, fears—or that these secrets will connect her to classmates she never thought to reach out to before. Classmates like the destructive but strangely magnetic Brand Sayers.
The biggest surprise? Wading through everyone else’s problems may be just what Juni needs to make peace with her own.
I’ll admit, even if it hadn’t been for my blogging bestie Lauren adoring this book, I was immediately drawn to Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index last year when I first heard about it because I fell in love with the cover. I’m generally not a fan of real people on book covers, but I loved loved loved the juxtaposition of the pink and festive confetti with Juniper’s facial expression- almost like she’s bracing herself for something. This juxtaposition of brightness with anxiety, surprise with resignation, is actually extremely relevant to the themes in the novel, which while functions as a coming of age story that has a lot of heart, humor, and positive relationships, also has a melancholy thread of grief running constantly throughout.
Juniper Lemon (I love that her name apologetically sounds like the flavor of a candy and the why behind it is never explained) is one of my favorite contemporary protagonists that I’ve come across. She’s earnest and honest in her narrative but also vulnerable and just overall seems like a really kind yet sad person- I found myself just wanting to give her a hug the entire book. Coping with the death of her sister, she embarks on her junior year of high school carrying the guilt and silence of a family in mourning, while trying to navigate all of the other trauma that high school naturally brings: bullies, boy drama, etc. While the book hits all of the typical high school novel tropes (I saw a reviewer- I can’t remember who- mention this book REALLY brought the high school nostalgia on and I have to agree), it also focused a lot on grief in really interesting ways. Rather than it being heavy and in the reader’s face all the time, it could be found in all of the little rituals Juniper carries out to cope, from her happiness index cards to leaving Dala horses around town to her art projects that all honor her sister and her grief in a certain way. This novel shows the protagonist taking her grief and turning it into something constructive, using it to create, which I found so unique!
A Few Things I Really Enjoyed:
- Friendship Goals- Juniper gradually accumulates a new friend group throughout the story that is sort of a hodgepodge of people with all different interests but they all work together so well and I know what it’s like to be part of a group of friends where everyone is super different, and it’s often the most rewarding kind!
- Dala Horses- I though this was such a cool touch, incorporating an element from Juniper’s family’s background (traditional Swedish painted horses) into the story, and I love the one on the back cover!
- Mystery- I actually wasn’t expecting this book to have such a mystery at it’s center (AKA I probs should have read the synopsis all the way lol) and I was getting sort of a Nancy Drew vibe from Juniper at times which I loved.
- Happiness Index- I loved Juniper’s “happiness index” where she logged her positives and negatives throughout the day. It’s such a cool alternative to journaling, as it would only take a few second to write out a note card with the main highlights and lowlights of your day.
In a lot of ways, Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index was a really creative story with a melancholy vibe that’s so at odds with typical YA narratives, which made me love it in some respects. However, there were some elements that bothered me a bit and impacted my overall rating of the book. I felt like it dragged at times and while the high school setting was vivid, I got a bit bored of it. The relationship was OK and I love that it was an unusual pairing without feeling like a cliché, but the drama at the end was a little over the top, and View Spoiler »if Brand had pulled that crap on me you can bet I wouldn’t be forgiving him so fast. « Hide Spoiler. I also felt like the end of the book had a real lack of closure which for me personally knocked it down a whole half star because I felt I didn’t get the return on investment I was expecting after reading it.
Overall: Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index was a cute and poignant read that is a little different from most of the other YA contemporaries out there. I’m glad I own it (that cover!) but would have loved it even more with a different ending. Also, the cover model 100% captured what I pictured Juniper to look like!