Synopsis: For as long as Jack “June” O’Donnell has been alive, her parents have had only one rule: stay away from the Angert family. But when June collides—quite literally—with Saul Angert, sparks fly, and everything June has known is thrown into chaos.
Who exactly is this gruff, sarcastic, but seemingly harmless boy who has returned to their hometown of Five Fingers, Michigan, after three mysterious years away? And why has June—an O’Donnell to her core—never questioned her late father’s deep hatred of the Angert family? After all, the O’Donnells and the Angerts may 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.
As Saul and June’s connection grows deeper, they find that the magic, ghosts, and coywolves of Five Fingers seem to be conspiring to reveal the truth about the harrowing curse that has plagued their bloodlines for generations. Now 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 the O’Donnells before her—to let go.
Those of you who have followed me for a hot second know about my complex relationship with magical realism. Me and magical realism’s Facebook relationship status: it’s complicated. If the feelings between me and magical realism were a math equation, they’d be a super long one.
You get it.
To sum up my relationship with magical realism (other than by saying “complex” in a million different ways): When it’s done right, I LOVE IT. Like, more than any other genre. My perfect book is probably really good magical realism. (Examples of lit magical realism: The Night Circus (!), The World to Come.) But that’s almost never what happens. I don’t know what it is, but I’m rarely content with the sh*t in this genre. And I tend to get way angrier when it’s bad. Like, YOU WERE SO CLOSE! You could have been so good. (Examples of magical realism that made me want to light a trash can on fire: The Darkest Part of the Forest, Perfect Ten, Summer Days and Summer Nights…I could go on, but this paragraph is hella long.)
I think I’ve boiled down my equation for a good magical realism book to two things: first, it has to make you wonder if maybe there could be magic in our dumb, boring old reality, and second, it has to make you hope that there is, and that it’s the particular breed of magic outlined in the book.
I’m thrilled to inform you that A Million Junes, for the most part, checks those boxes.
HURRAY!!!!!!!!! (Do you guys spell it “hurray” or “hooray”? There’s a clear right answer, and it’s entirely based on which one looks cuter.)
So, in this book, we follow June, who lives in a magic house and is the heir apparent to one half of a small town Minnesota war between families. She’s still reeling from the decade-ago death of her dad, who she super loved, when the heir apparent to the OTHER family shows up in town. And is a total flippin’ babe. And then stuff gets very weird, and very magical, AND I CAN’T DO THIS BOOK JUSTICE BUT TRUST ME, IT’S WORTH READING.
I mean…this book wasn’t perfect. When is it ever? But let’s stick with the good stuff for now. In fact, let’s talk characters.
Ah, these characters. Well, specifically June, Saul, and Hannah. June is our protagonist, our narrator, the light of my life and joy of my soul. She’s shockingly funny (when are characters ever truly funny?) and so fun to follow. She makes not like other girls jokes! I was in love with her by the twenty page mark. She’s so not the typical YA narrator, for so many reasons. (And no, that wasn’t a not like other girls joke. Or was it?)
Saul is June’s perfect complement. Their banter is so great. He’s a lil cutie and I like him a lot. That’s all I have to say. Oh, except that he’s a couple years older than June (he’s 20 and she’s 18) and they handle it so? well? Like, I’ve read YA with much bigger age differences that don’t even mention it, and in this one the characters have long, personal discussions about whether they’re both comfortable. UGH. IT’S GREAT.
Also, the female friendship in this is AMAZING. June’s BFF Hannah is so wonderful and a tiny angel and I want the absolute best for her. My God. Just…the characters and relationships in this book, man! It gives me I’ll Give You the Sun vibes in terms of how totally fab both of those things are. (I’m lowkey embarrassed that I love characters so infrequently that these two books have something major in common.)
The setting is total magic. I don’t even want to talk about it – I want it to take you all blindly and by storm like it did me. It begins just reasonably enough and becomes perfectly wild (for a little while). In other words, the formula for MAKING YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC.
And maybe most importantly (besides my three children), this book is sososo gorgeously written. I feel like in a lot of YA, the quality of writing after a certain point is sorta left by the wayside, but that’s so untrue of this book. Emily Henry’s style is achingly lovely, and I may have to pick up everything she ever writes forever for that reason.
But…now, unfortunately, we have to delve into the kinda-bad and the straight-up bad. This book starts off confusing, and it does NOT wait for you to get up and get your head on straight. Your shoes on the right feet. Your pants on not-backwards. It just goes. Eventually you catch up, and you have the first half of the book to enjoy before everything gets increasingly f*cked up and confusing until the last quarter, when, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be holding onto your hat and BEGGING FOR AN EXPLANATION. It’s like becoming the math lady, from that one meme. You know. The blond woman looking confusedly with a math equation printed in front of her face? Everyone knows that image. It’s iconic.
Anyways. That explanation does not come.
I consider myself a
mind-boggingly extremely genius-level decently smart person, but I had no clue what was going on at some points. It doesn’t ruin the book or anything, since it’s supposed to be kinda magical and mysterious, but still. It loses the grounding in reality that magical realism has, or should have (it’s half the term, for God’s sake), and I was left with a metric f*ck ton of questions.
And it feels like the characters lose themselves in the second half, and that just sucks. First 200 pages: June-Saul-Hannah central. Remaining chunk: dismally characterization-free.
What I’m saying is the first half was better. The second half wasn’t terrible, but I just fondly reminisced on the beginning and pondered why it COULDN’T ALL BE LIKE THAT.
The only other negative was that most other characters fell by the wayside, but WHO CARES? I probably would’ve just wanted more JuneSaulHannah if anyone else got characterization time anyway.
Honestly, I feel like this book could have been 100 or 200 pages longer. And I NEVER say that. (But I’m not asking for a sequel. I’ll shout it from the rooftops: NO SEQUEL FOR THIS BOOK!!! Trust me on that.)
Update: Oh my god. I’m so embarrassed. I just saw in another person’s review that this is a Romeo and Juliet retelling. I DIDN’T EVEN REALIZE. I was over here like “Oh, two teens (kinda) who are fully in love? The guy’s older? Their families have been enemies for generations? Nope, not ringing any bells.”
THINGS ABOUT THE SECOND HALF ARE JUST NOW MAKING SENSE TO ME. I have never felt dumber in my entire life. I feel like I just read the book again.
I’m the full-on worst.
Bottom line: Ohmygod, read this. We only get so many good magical realism books.