Junonia by K. Henkes
Henkes, Kevin. Junonia. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2011. Print.
Henkes’ carefully considered novel for young adults, Junonia, showcases his ability to convey depth of emotion very clearly and intuitively. Going against the truism that children’s book illustrations have to represent the characters, the beautiful and restrained illustrations evoke the archetypal woodcut illustrations of vintage children’s books without descending into nostalgic kitsch. Both word and illustration contribute to Henkes’ candid and clear-eyed depictions of the natural world and the exterior manifestations of the characters’ inner lives.
The story unfolds as Alice Rice returns with her parents to Sanibel Island in Florida for their annual winter holiday and to celebrate her tenth birthday. Henkes has a deft narrative grasp of the unknowability of the individual, both to themselves and others; an aspect of the human condition that young people experience particularly acutely. In Henkes’ books for younger readers, there are gentle and empathetic adults present to help children negotiate the complexity of the world and their own feelings. However, Junonia is for older children and its protagonist is beginning the process of learning to navigate and master her own feelings and expectations. While supportive adults are present, they can only offer Alice a limited degree of benevolent protection from the realities of the passage of time and the vagaries of human emotions.
While the subject of the book is transition to, and reconciliation with, a more adult-level of self-awareness, the book never seems maudlin and retains a very lucid and almost austere tone. Junonia is an immersive and lovely introduction to literature created with the intent to closely follow the interior monologues of its characters. One could imagine moving on to Mrs Dalloway rather effortlessly.
Highly recommended: 4 out of 4 stars
Reviewer: Matilda Roche