It’s the summer of 1955. For Ethan Harper, a biracial kid raised mostly by his white father, race has always been a distant conversation. When he’s sent to spend the summer with his aunt and uncle in small-town Alabama, his Blackness is suddenly front and center, and no one is shy about making it known he’s not welcome there. Except for Juniper Jones. The town’s resident oddball and free spirit, she’s everything the townspeople aren’t—open, kind, and full of acceptance.
Armed with two bikes and an unlimited supply of root beer floats, Ethan and Juniper set out to find their place in a town that’s bent on rejecting them. As Ethan is confronted for the first time by what it means to be Black in America, Juniper tries to help him see the beauty in even the ugliest reality, and that even the darkest days can give rise to an invincible summer.
This is an excellent read! I was by turns horrified (by people’s treatment of Ethan) and enchanted (by Juniper and her personality) throughout the entire book. I’m sure the portrayal of life in small-town Alabama in 1955 is accurate. Sadly. But it’s interesting to see how far we’ve come as a society—and how far we still have to go.
Juniper is such a quirky, spirited character, and I enjoyed her antics so much! It was sad seeing Ethan’s realization of how life in Alabama was different from what he’d known. I loved this read!
Daven McQueen lives in Boston. The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones is her new novel.
(Galley courtesy of Wattpad Books in exchange for an honest review.)
In the 1990s, Zodwa is a 17-year-old girl living in a squatter’s camp on the outskirts of Johannesburg with her mother. The constant threat of civil war and the disappearance of her brother years ago haunts their every step. Overwhelming poverty casts its shadow over their lives—as does the growing AIDS epidemic. And Zodwa, once the hope of her mother, is pregnant.
Ruth might be wealthy, but she’s far from happy. She knows her husband wants a divorce, and when her drinking leads her places she never intended, she ends up living on the empty family farm outside Johannesburg…where the sister she hasn’t seen for decades arrives unannounced. Delilah is a disgraced former nun haunted by a past she’s never spoken of, a past her sister knows nothing about. When they find an abandoned baby on their porch, they are confronted with their own beliefs about motherhood, race, and the secrets of the past.
If You Want to Make God Laugh is not a book meant for light reading. There are some very heavy topics here, and these three women have experienced truly terrible things. They might be broken, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t strong. Poverty and violence shadow their lives and the life of their community. The setting, on the cusp of Nelson Mandela’s presidency in South Africa, is torn by conflict, war, and disease. However, this is a wonderful, wonderful read.
Bianca Marais is from South Africa but now lives in Toronto. If You Want to Make God Laugh is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of G.P. Putnam’s Sons via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)