Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Review: Juniors by Kaui Hart Hemmings

I was incredibly excited to get ahold of this book.  It's not because I really enjoyed Hemmings' novel The Descendants (although I did), but because I used to live in Hawaii and attended the high school that is itself almost a character in Juniors.  I love reading about places I know well.  It's such fun to recognize people, places, things, and attitudes if the author gets the place right, and maddening, but also somehow enjoyable, to note what the author gets wrong.  I knew Hemmings would get Hawaii and Punahou right, though, because she actually lived there, attended school there, etc.  And also because The Descendants got the culture of Hawaii really right.  I loved Juniors, and while I am not myself the target audience (I'm not a young adult), I felt like it waste perfect book for me to read right now.  It is a very well-written book with complicated and sympathetic characters.  No one has cancer, or is dating a vampire or werewolf, or discovers she has magical powers, or is secretly a princess, or is anorexic, or is a drunk, or gets in a car crash, or is bullied, or is a bully.  This is not, in other words, a typical YA book.  I love typical YA books as well, but Juniors feels like it could be read and enjoy by adults, because it is so much smarter, less melodramatic, and more insightful than a lot of books aimed at teenagers.  The main character is a normal teenage girl who happens to be in a setting that for most people is quite extraordinary.  But Hemmings does a really excellent job of both capturing the feel of Hawaii and what makes it special, and not exoticizing it or making us view it from the outside.  She drops in a lot of "local" terms and geography without feeling the need to explain most of it.  I can see that this might frustrate some readers, but I believe she does this on purpose to give the reader a feel for the place.  It doesn't matter if you know what poke or slippers or ASPE are.  They are just words she throws in to give her writing authenticity.  They give you a feel for the place.  The specifics don't matter.  If you can just accept that, I think this book would be a deeply pleasurable read for anyone looking to get away and experience a beautiful place without leaving your home.

The story here is pretty simple, and is about what it feels like to be a normal, awkward, angsty, embarrassed, romantic, confused, obnoxious teenager.  Hemmings perfectly captures the awkward things that all teenagers did and thought many times in their lives.  This book also managed to capture the feeling of a hormonal high school crush better than any book I have ever read.  I cringed more than a few times along with the main character Lea over the spastic things she blurts out or thinks.  I love that this book has crushes and cute boys, but is, at its heart, really about friendship, not romantic love.  It's really quite refreshing in a YA, or adult, for the matter, book these days.  This is a beautiful, meditative, and yes, fun, read that isn't overly serious, but is still insightful and smart.

Juniors will be released by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers (Penguin) on September 22, 2015.

I received this book from First to Read in exchange for an honest review.

1 comment: