Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Juniors, by Kaui Heart Hemmings

For some reason, I was expecting sort of a We Were Liars (E. Lockhart)/Even In Paradise (Chelsey Philpot) sort of thing with this book. You know: average teen falls in with rich family with deep, dark, awful secret...and then follows drama and possibly doomed romance worthy of Shakespearean tragedy. 

Don't know why I thought that. 

Juniors the first YA (I think) novel by Kaui Heart Hemmings wasn't like that at all. Not really. There were elements of my expectations, like the poor(ish) girl becoming involved with a family rich almost to the point of obnoxiousness, but the book didn't really meet up with what I thought.

But sometimes experiences not meeting up can be a good thing. It was for me with this book...and it was for the book's main character.

Lea (pronounced "Lay-uh", not "Lee-uh") Lane and her D-list actress mom recently moved from California to Hawaii so her mom could take a job with a new TV series. Although this move to paradise may sound idyllic, Lea is feeling a bit like a fish out of water. Not sure where, or even IF, she fits in. This feeling is only enhanced when her mom moves them from their lower middle class neighborhood to the guest cottage of the extremely affluent West family (her mom and Melanie West are sort of friends). Most teen girls would probably feel like Cinderella at the ball, but not Lea. Instead, she's wondering what the motive is. Does Melanie West want something in return? Are they just a spontaneous charity case, adopted for show or sport? What? To say Lea is suspicious is putting it mildly. She doesn't expect to ever feel "at home" living at the West property. And she certainly doesn't expect to become such good friends with Whitney and Will West, people she assumed would be shallow and snobby because of their privilege. Like with any realistic relationships, these aren't all sunshine and sandcastles. But also like any realistic relationships (the ones worth holding onto), the teens work through their differences (when they have them) and help each other grow as people.

At its heart, Juniors is a story about growing up, putting aside preconceived ideas, and learning to become the person you're meant to be. This, if done well, can be interesting enough. No magic, post-apocalyptic-ness, or paranormalcy (ronantic or otherwise) required. And Juniors did it well.

I enjoyed Juniors. Not only for its tropical setting (it's January in Michigan, ok), but also for the well-developed and realistic characters. I also appreciated that there was quite a bit of multicultural flavor to the story (Hawaii is, after all, a complex blend of different cultures and nationalities). This last bit got me curious about a few things as I read, so I kept wikipedia open nearby.  

So yeah. I recommend this one. --AJB

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