Note: I was given an advanced copy of this novel by the author in exchange for an honest review. How I received my copy does not affect how I thought about the work.
Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Summer is a time of possibility. The possibility of new love, the possibility of strengthened friendship and the possibility of family bonding. In Lora Richardson’s new novel The Edge of Juniper, sixteen-year-old Fay Whitaker’s summer means going to live with her cousins while her parents go on a mission trip to build a school in a last ditch effort to rebuild their marriage. However, while staying with her younger cousins Celia and Abe, Fay grapples with doubts about her family’s future and realizations about the abusive relationship between her Uncle Todd and Aunt Donna. In the midst of it all is a forbidden boy, Malcolm Dearing, whose selfless love threatens the precarious and false sense of stability upon which her family has relied.
I loved the characters in this book, even the ones that were presented as unlikable. Fay’s pain and confusion comes through her first person narration. While Fay comes off as selfish or foolish at moments, her feelings ring true and she pulled me into her story from the first page. Malcolm was my second favorite character in this summer romance novel. While he comes off as one-sided at points and he’s maybe a little too perfect, the absolutely swoon-worthy scenes between him and Fay make up for any shortcomings in his character.
Celia and Abe, Fay’s cousins, were characters that I wish I had gotten more of. At times, Celia’s life felt more turbulent and unstable than Fay’s, making me crave the thoughts that were inside her head and learn more about her story than I was given. The lack of closure with her storyline felt realistic, but also slightly disappointing. Abe’s character, a boy entering the blurry road to manhood, was tragic but also uplifting. He was another character I wanted to see more from. Minor characters like Paul, Esta and Ronan rounded out the teenage part of the cast of characters well.
Moving onto the adults, Heidi was the star of the diner where Celia and Fay work. Her snarky comments and tough love stole the scene every time she appeared on the page. Aunt Donna’s character was frustrating but understandable and Uncle Todd was enraging, but in these ways they filled exactly the roles they needed to in the story. Fay’s parents fell a little flat, but their actual personalities are so insignificant in terms of the overall plot that this was easy to overlook.
Richardson’s specialty seems to be conveying relatable, complicated relationships. The scenes between Celia and Fay were unpredictable in a good way, ranging from frustrating to heartwarming. Fay’s evolving relationship with Malcolm is the central thread, and Richardson turns what could have easily become a saturated and sappy romance into something sweet and kind. Fay’s relationship with her parents is delivered well through her inner monologue, and I could feel her reactions and thought processes through her thoughts, which was executed well. Richardson also avoided creating a cliché with Donna and Todd’s relationship, although just barely. Still, it works and serves its purpose in the overall scope of the narrative.
In terms of setting, I loved the quaint little town of Juniper. Richardson’s rich description and Fay’s close observation of the town and woods around her enriched the novel and kept my attention. The setting felt especially especially tangible in the scenes at the pond and Malcolm’s cabin, especially through Fay’s romanticized descriptions. The scenes at Heidi’s restaurant were another high point.
However, the best part about this book was its raw emotional content. Where the writing failed to completely deliver, the emotional capacity of the words more than filled in and I felt myself carried away with sadness, glee, anger and love for the characters in each scene.
This made up for the dialogue, which while excellent at some points suffered in others. Some conversations seemed forced, awkward or hokey in parts and some scenes took on the tone of a melodramatic soap opera, but these minor issues don’t disrupt the overall flow of this tender and thoughtfully written novel.
Overall, The Edge of Juniper is a great summer read. It’s the kind of book that’s perfect to bring to the porch, to the pool, to the beach or to the backyard hammock. Make sure to save yourself an entire day to sit and read this book, because once you start, you’ll want to stick around and see how it ends.