I can enjoy a romance, as long as it’s more than just an improbably love story meant to satisfy a housewife’s fetish. I can enjoy a mystery, as long as not your stereotypical thriller and has meaning for the characters beyond coincidence. And I can enjoy A Million Junes by Emily Henry, my Book of the Month from June.
Admittedly, I suspected when I selected the book that it would have a romance central to the plot. But, as I think I’ve said before, I don’t hate romance. I just get bored with romance for romance’s sake and am more interested in how it furthers the plot. If it doesn’t…then why bother including it?
Fortunately for me, A Million Junes isn’t just a romance and an old mystery. There’s supernatural elements that give my fantasy-loving mind something to hang on to, even if this power isn’t so prevalent it needs to be categorized and understood. Things happen because they can, and some are aware and some are not.
But let’s start at the beginning. Jack O’Donnell IV is a senior in high school whose parents (mother, stepfather, deceased father) have two rules. 1. Don’t go to the falls. 2. No Angerts. So when she (yes, Jack is a girl) meets Saul Angert (boy, if you couldn’t guess), she is absolutely positive terrible things will happen because of it. Oh, also because she saw a dark, shadowy ghost whose appearance always seems to presage disaster.
The O’Donnells and Angerts have feuded for generations, and not just in a small-town legend type of way. But the families also have strange ties: if something terrible happens to one, something just as bad happens to the other. Such as Saul’s twin sister Bekah dying not long before June’s father.
I should clarify that Jack IV is also known as “Jack Junior” and “June” is a nickname from “Junior,” as well as the name she goes by most often. She has a lot of names and they all get used over the course of the book.
As the story goes on, not only do we find our protagonist falling deeper in love, she’s also diving deeper into the sordid past of her family, and his, trying to figure out the curse. It’s no easy task, with our without an ally.
I am quite pleased with this book selection. I was thoroughly engrossed with the book, worried about June, cheering her on, and even felt my eyes tearing up at the end. If there’s anything that Henry does well throughout the book, it’s convey what it’s like to have lost a close relative. Anyone observant understands that society only has so much patience with mourning today, expecting us to “get over it” and move on with our lives. Not only is it much harder in the immediate aftermath than that, that sorrow can sneak up on us years after the fact. I still cling to my grandfather’s memory, and I know it must be worse for my mom because he was her father and was that much closer to him than I.
Since yesterday was the first of the month, new Book of the Month choices were available and I actually made a selection this time. Which prompted me to remember that I had A Million Junes on my shelf, waiting to be read. Sadly, it’s oddly timely, because I don’t remember what drew me to it and I wasn’t at all expecting it to spend so much time around remembering the dead. As it so happens, I’m attending a funeral on Saturday. The husband of my mom’s friend. I didn’t know him really, but my mom’s friend is the nicest woman around and I cannot even begin to imagine what this must be like for her. They knew it was coming because he had brain tumors, and he’d been put not only on hospice but in a facility, because she just couldn’t handle him at home anymore. And this not so many years after her sister died of cancer, staying with them. Shit happens to the kindest people.
Before I confirmed my box yesterday, I browsed around the extra books which could be added for an additional fee. One caught my eye…but it was steampunk. I’ve had mixed luck with steampunk in the past, enough that I didn’t really want to spend money on it. Then I got an idea. I got a wonderful, awful idea. I searched my library’s catalog and lo and behold, not only do they have the book, it was on shelf. I placed a hold.
Then it got to be almost 7:40pm tonight and I realized I was about 150 pages from the end of A Million Junes and you know, if I’m in a mood to read BotM selections, I should probably get over to the library and get my hold so I can start it in the morning. Because, really. 150 pages left at 7:40? No way was I not finishing tonight.
The trend of Book of the Month choices started by The Sun is Also a Star and continued with A Million Junes makes me wonder what would happen if I reconsidered my genre ban on romance. But there are two main factors in keeping it. First and foremost, I do not know a lot about romances other than the fact that they tend to be pure fluff with few redeeming qualities (as far as I am concerned) and what I don’t know can keep me from finding those which are worth my time and effort. Secondly, the BotM selections are already curated. Five judges each month choose one book each which is then offered to the subscribers. These judges prepare an essay on why they liked and chose the book, and we also get to read a synopsis and excerpt if we want before making our selection. Of course, given that I’ve also had a book that I despised, it just says that every book is enjoyed by someone, and that person may not be me.
Still, it’s not nearly as difficult as going to a library or bookstore and seeing the massive size of the Romance section and then having to make a decision.
Besides, like I said, I’m not wholly against romance or mystery in my books. I just want something more to catch my interest. At the end of the day, I need to be invested in the story I’m reading to truly enjoy myself. The Cat of Bubastes was written so dryly, intellectually, and smugly that I couldn’t not read it as a self-important prick telling a patronizing story to a child. I much prefer books like A Million Junes where the text isn’t a barrier to my enjoyment, it’s simply the medium through which I immerse myself in the tale.