The most recent offering from West Coast YA powerhouse Carrie Mac relates the experiences of 15-year-old Juniper (“Junie”) as her mother’s hoarding goes from problematic to potentially life-threatening. When Mom’s salvation arrives via an offer to appear on her favourite talk show (a sort of down-market Oprah), her emotional journey is fascinating for the reader and by turns heartbreaking and revolting for Junie.
Mac elevates the disorder above the level of freak-show reality television. Junie’s mother is a real and interesting character. And while the inevitable plot twist seems more Psych 101 than the rest of the storyline, the arc is still compelling.
What sets Junie apart from other YA narrators is how active she is. All the intense (and believably confused) teenage emotions are here, but unlike the fraught inner monologues that mark most YA, we also get the satisfaction of having Junie actually speak up for herself. Sometimes it’s in anger, sometimes to deceive, but it’s always authentic and cheer-worthy. Got a horrible stepmother? Tell her off. Dad abandoned the family? Give it to him straight. Mom’s a backsliding addict? Sometimes you’re going to lose your temper.
Mac also nails her portrayal of the best- friend relationship, so often a throwaway in novels in which family drama plays the central role. Junie is pretty squeaky clean, so Mac’s choice to give her an even more squeaky-clean friend is surprising, but it works. It would be easy to write off Junie as a bit square, but through the prism of the friendship, we understand her lack of cool as an attempt to grasp for stability.
Junie and her family are imperfect, infuriating, and dishonest – and also fascinating, brave, and broken. This book is simply irresistible and not to be missed.