Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index
Written by Julie Israel
Published by Penguin Books
RRP: $17.99 (AUD)

Juniper Lemon starts the school year a much different person. Her older, much loved sister Camilla is dead. Juniper is suffering with more than the physical scars from the accident in which her sister died. She must face her peers, best friend and parents, all who seem to be avoiding discussing the tragedy, or Camilla. Her only saviour is her happiness index. Suggested by Camilla and adjusted by Juniper, Juniper rates her happiness each day on a scale of one to ten and writes down positives and negatives for the day. Each card is numbered and neatly stored in a shoebox. On her first day of school, however, she loses card number 65. The same day she finds a letter from Camilla to a mystery person, known throughout the novel only as You. Juniper embarks on a quest to find both card number 65 and the identity of You. While searching through the school rubbish she meets Brand, who helps her with the dirty task. She does not find her lost card but does find information about some other people and she begins to help them instead. Kody and Angela’s secrets are revealed to Juniper in various ways, and unlikely friendships begin. Nate and Sponge help Juniper in their own ways, for quite different reasons, all of which are slowly revealed in the narrative. Brand warns Juniper of the dangers of helping others to help herself, but she continues and it seems she is not the only person in the mix with these well-meant but potentially ill-fated intentions.

The only regret I have about reading this book is that it sat on my too read shelf far too long. I wish I had read it earlier.

Juniper’s grief is raw and tender.

I smile through the moisture in my eyes. If I don’t, I know he’ll just ask me if I’m okay, and I am so, so tired and heartsick of answering Yes when that’s so indescribably far from the truth. (p. 120)

Juniper is wracked with guilt in her grieving, and misses her sister terribly. The characterisation is consistently good throughout the novel. The reader gets to know the characters very well, and can feel their pain, laughter and fear. There are many novels with similar themes, a dead sibling, grieving family, unsure friends, but Julie Israel has dealt with these issues in an original and sensitive way. There are flaws in the parents, a realistic attribution, and instead of excluding them from the narrative they are involved in various ways.

One might think the bright cover betrays the grief and sensitivities of the narrative, but I think it is a reflection of Juniper and her sister, of their personalities and how they influence those around them, even after Camilla has gone.

This is a novel for teens and adults. Raw and honest, it is also original and hopeful. Grief may not be overcome entirely, but it can be eased a little with help and love from friends.

Highly recommended.

Many thanks to Penguin Random House for sending me this book for review.