Book Reviews

The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones by Daven McQueen


Released: June 2020
Publisher: Wattpad Books
Pages: 312
Rating: 5/5

There are some friends you never forget.


From the publisher:

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. Enter Juniper Jones. The town’s resident oddball and free spirit, she’s everything the townspeople aren’t―open, kind, and accepting.

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 . . .


Although I finished this book several weeks ago, I had to let it sit for a while before I felt like I could write the review it deserves. Even now I’m not sure I have the words to accurately describe how deeply this powerful novel affected me. It’s not often that a book brings me to my emotional knees, but The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones utterly did in that way only the best of books can do. Daven McQueen has written a breathtaking story, made all the more impressive by the fact this is the young writer’s debut novel.

I was swept away into this summer tale from the start, feeling as if I were riding my bike alongside Ethan and Juniper, the humid Alabama air whipping through my hair. But this wasn’t just a story of carefree, aimless days during summer break among childhood friends. This was a story full of intense social relevance that is apt now more than ever.

After being sent to estranged relatives in rural Alabama as punishment for a fight at school, Ethan finds that the world is even harder for people of color than he ever could have imagined. Not to say that he was free from prejudice in Oregon, but the sheer scope of the civil rights movement in the American South was still very far removed from his own experiences. Ever on tiptoes, Ethan not only had to survive a summer in exile from his friends and family, but he had to survive that exile within a hostile environment that could very well end up killing him.

The relationship Juniper and Ethan forged in the face of all this was profound. Both outcasts from the town’s narrowminded population, they instantly connected and became each other’s lifelines. The moments of happiness they were able to carve out amidst this were all the more special, truly showing what friendship can really be. Even though there were times Ethan was unsure he would come out of the summer intact, Juniper’s infectious antics drew him out of his shell and showed him magic even in the mundane.

As the book unfolded and I fell more in love with Juniper and Ethan, a sickening sense of foreboding began to grow in me. The tensions in the town were escalating to the point where it seemed impossible to stop them from boiling over and taking Ethan and his loved ones with it.  Even though I knew something was coming, I don’t think I was fully prepared for that much evil and hate to rear its ugly head. I was outside in my hammock reading the final chapters of this book and wept for a solid 45 minutes out there- what my neighbors must think of me!

While the racism was awful, it was the people who stood by letting it happen that broke me the most. Much like it is today, if it isn’t happening to them personally it’s not a real problem. It’s simply easier for them to just turn their heads and not make waves, especially in a small town. Even Juniper, wonderful and amazing Juniper, struggled to understand why Ethan was upset when she didn’t defend him against her own racist family. She ended up having to take a long look at herself to realize that brushing aside moments like those can be almost as hurtful as outright blatant racism.

Luckily, unlike many of the characters in the book, it didn’t take long for Juniper to realize that often the fight for civil rights starts at home. This was something that Ethan ended up learning, too. The way these two discovered the world and their place within it was incredible to watch, Juniper in particular. She was an irresistable ray of light in an otherwise dark place, her sheer presence enough to shape the people around her into better versions of themselves.

As she was for Ethan, Juniper is definitely someone I will never forget. This is a complicated, horrible place at times, but if we had more people like Juniper Jones out there the world would be much better for it.


I recently mentioned in my review of A Song Below Water that the timing of its release seemed almost too fitting to be coincidental and the same could be said for The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones. However, also like I said in that review, the sad truth is a book about racial inequalities in America would be relevant no matter when it was released.

We’d like to think a novel about racism that took place over a century ago would be outdated, but unfortunately it isn’t. Yes, there are no longer segregated water fountains, but the systemic racism in our society that led to those Jim Crow laws never really went away. I’d be amazed if Ethan’s situation would have been much different if he were to have gone through this in a more contemporary time. With the streets of America currently erupting over racial disparities, it’s devastatingly clear that we’re not all that much closer to equality than Ethan and Juniper were.

As I was reading this, I found myself thinking about readers 60 years from now reading books that take place in the 2020s. I sincerely hope that when people are reading about racism in the early 21st century, it’s seen as a dark time in history rather than as a story that is still horribly relevant.


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