Normally I don’t start a book by reading it’s end, but “A Million Junes” ends with a love letter so beautiful that even if you didn’t read the rest of Emily Henry’s 391-page young adult novel, I’d encourage you to read just that.
It’s like that game parents and children play where each ask the other to guess how much they love them — the type of love you want every child to have and know.
These feelings are probably why “A Million Junes” feel like the warmest of hugs.
Henry’s book is a ballad about a love that defies death — how a child copes with the death of a beloved parent, whose body is cold even before the book begins.
Jack O’Donnell’s death is the emotional stimulus for much of his daughter’s writing, which one imagines as lyrical as Henry’s own. In it, June O’Donnell tells the tales her father passed down to her — how her great grandfather settled in the Five Fingers and started a cherry farm, how coywolves steal shoes from their backyard, and how their house is haunted by ghosts (which are mostly good).
Both are still playing that game and the child still can’t win. The child, high school student June O’Donnell, loves her dad from the moon and back while her dad, Jack, loves June from beyond.
Love has it’s own rules, of course. It can become boundaries like “if you love me, don’t.” And O’Donnell’s don’t. They don’t go to Five Fingers Falls. And they don’t hang out with their neighbors the Angerts because for generations (at least) whenever O’Donnells and Angerts meet, bad things happen. Bad things like her father’s death.
This becomes problematic when 20-year-old Saul Angert drops out of school and returns home to care for his sick father. June starts seeing Saul hanging around town and her high school. Worst of all, she starts liking him — which seems to defy her dead father’s wishes.
But as June learns, to love is to live — even if it hurts.