There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle Finn. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of AIDS (it’s 1986) June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life–someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.
In many ways this is a classic young adult coming of age tale using characters we’ve seen in every young adult book and film since the Breakfast Club. June is the standard teenage outsider who finds it difficult to fit in. Greta, her elder sister, is popular and perfect but struggling with her own problems and the pressure to maintain appearances. Toby, Finn’s partner, another outsider. Together in their grief they learn about themselves and each other. So far all par for the course within this genre. What raised this book above the average young adult fare was its treatment of some of the themes.
The grief all the characters feel at the death of someone so young, charismatic and deeply loved is brutally raw. That sense of floundering through the day, struggling to make sense of what has happened is recognisable to anyone who has lost someone they care about. It is well portrayed avoiding the usual clichés.
However what really I loved was the portrayal of sibling relationships. In literature we are usually presented with two versions of sibling relationships. Either it is totally dysfunctional (look no further than the Lannister’s in Game of Thrones) or all happy families (think the March sisters in Little Women). There is no middle ground. However here we see that middle ground. Sibling rivalries combined with teenage girl bitchiness is not a good combination. Girls can be awful to each other at times, doubly so when they are sisters. But no matter how mean they are to each other, when the chips are down they’ll stick by each other no matter what. It was both realistic and refreshing.
For a debut novel it is extremely promising, and eschewing the current trends in Young Adult fiction there isn’t a dystopian world or vampire in sight which is a nice change. The only element which held me back from giving it 5/5 was the fact the author did nothing new with characters I’ve seen too many times before in both books and films within this genre. A minor complaint to be fair.