04 February 2016

Review: Juniors by Kaui Hart Hemmings

Review: Juniors by Kaui Hart HemmingsIt's been many years since I lived in Hawaii, but the islands still have a place in my heart. I know much has changed over the years, but I can usually find moments of recognition when I read novels set in present-day Oahu. Kaui Hart Hemmings's Juniors is no exception, and I found a lot to love in this story about a teenager trying to find her place in the world.

What happens? Lea Lane, part Hawaiian, has spent a lot of time visiting family in Oahu but grew up as a California girl. In the middle of her junior year in high school, her mother, a middling actress, takes a job that relocates them to Hawaii. Although she has a few friends there, Lea is unprepared for the social pressures of going to a prestigious private school and never feels she really fits in. It only gets worse when she and her mother move into the guest house on the grounds of a family friend's estate: the children are among the cool kids and their parents travel in high society. The more Lea gets to know the West family (the friendly landlords), the more confused she becomes about what she wants from herself and from life.

The opening: I loved the opening scene of Juniors, in which Lea is participating in an exercise in truth and self-awareness with her classmates at school. It's a brilliant way to be introduced to Lea and her life before moving to the estate.

Authenticity: Few outsiders see the real Hawaii. You really have to live and work there to get a glimpse of the layer floating beneath the Aloha spirit. I hardly profess to be an expert, but I can attest to the truth that making a home in the islands is a totally different experience from vacationing there. Hemmings is brilliant at revealing what the tourists don't see, including the complex social and cultural ramifications of one's ancestry.

In addition, Hemmings really nails family issues and parent-child relationships (also perfectly depicted in her The Descendents). We see two different situations in Juniors: Lea and her mother were always two against the world until they move to the West estate. Under the influence of their friends, they each make poor decisions, threatening to destroy their closeness irrevocably. The Wests give their children all the freedoms that maintain the family image, but offer them little more than that. Whitney and Will have learned the importance of a good facade, but do their parents see them for who they are?

Finally, few authors can capture the teenage / high school experience as well as Hemmings. Lea is faced with real-life situations, such as figuring out the sincerity of newfound friendships, discovering alcohol, wondering about having sex, coping with not being invited to a party, and wanting to be cool but still wanting to be herself. Lea's emotions, desires, and confusion are immediately recognizable, and you'll understand her inner turmoil, even if your teenage issues were a little different from hers.

Recommendations: Although Kaui Hart Hemmings's Juniors is billed as a young adult novel, it's really a contemporary story for anyone who has a teenager or was a teenager. This is not a story of teenage angst, there is no classic love triangle. Instead it's about a girl whose vision becomes clouded by possibilities and wannabes. We hope the fog lifts so she can find her way back home.

Audiobook: I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition (Listening Library, 8 hr, 55 min) read by Jorjeana Marie. Marie does a fantastic job channeling her inner teenager, hitting the cadences and emotions perfectly. I loved her expressiveness and characterizations and that she made it so easy for me to relate to and root for Lea. Highly recommended.

Published by Penguin Random House / Putnam Books, 2015
ISBN-13: 9780399173608
Source: Review--audio (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


bermudaonion 2/4/16, 8:54 AM  

You liked this one more than I did but I get what you mean about seeing the real Hawaii. People always thought we lived a glamorous life when we lived in France and it wasn't the way they pictured it.

(Diane) bookchickdi 2/4/16, 8:58 AM  

This sounds really great. I've never been to Hawaii, but the reality of the difference between what tourists see and what residents live is intriguing.

rhapsodyinbooks 2/4/16, 9:48 AM  

I really hate books about private schools which unfortunately means I don't read quite a few!

Vicki 2/4/16, 5:48 PM  

This sounds good. I'd love to visit Hawaii some day.

Deb in Hawaii 2/5/16, 5:28 PM  

Great review. I have this one on my "to-read" list so I am happy to hear what you thought about it. You make a good point about "the layer floating beneath the Aloha spirit"--I love to read books set here to see how and what they capture. ;-)

Unknown 2/6/16, 4:07 PM  

This one looks interesting, I'm always on the look out for a well read audiobook.

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