Book Review: Juno's Daughters

Juno's Daughters
Published By: Plume
Page Count: 328
Buy it at Amazon or IndieBound
Source: Provided by Author
Audience: Adult

A story that mimics the sea with its churning events and emotions that shift from tranquil to tumultuous....

Juno's Daughters has the perfect mixture for a great read - strong sense of place, well developed characters, and an intriguing plot. San Juan Island, off the coast of Washington State, holds a bit of magic for those of us who live in the mainland. I love visiting the islands and imagining that I fit into their culture and community. I haven't  visited San Juan yet, but after this book it is on my list of things to do. There is just something about a book set on an island that immediately draws my attention. I also loved how Saffran was able to transport the reader to the island; she did a beautiful job with not only describing the look and feel of the island, but she also did a nice job of capturing the island culture.

Juno's Daughters unfolds in two distinct ways. First, there is the yearly summer Shakespeare play when the island is invaded by professional actors. Many locals are involved in the play as well through smaller roles, costume design, etc. The entire island is caught up in the process and it becomes something that everyone looks forward to each year. Jenny, the main character, typically works on costumes and props, but she finds herself being offered an acting part with her two daughters, Lily and Frankie. Lily is a hard to handle, stubborn teen who is on the cusp of adulthood after high school graduation. Frankie is thirteen and trying to figure out who she is and how she fits into the world.  The family dynamic between Jenny, Lily, and Frankie was more interesting to me than the scenes involving the play. Their lifestyle is so different than mine and I found myself trying to figure out which character's role in the family would be mine.

As the first segment unfolds, the actors not only bring excitement to the island, but drama as well. Lily falls head over heels in love with an older actor who also happens to have caught her mother's eye. I honestly didn't enjoy this story line at all. Lily's interest bordered on obsession and I was uncomfortable watching her throw herself at the poor man. Many reviewers have commented on this aspect being a competition between Lily and Jenny for Trinculo's affections, but I didn't see it that way at all. I did, however, want Jenny to step in and control her child a bit more. Lily seemed to care for nobody but herself. However, since I am not a parent, I had trouble understanding a lot of Jenny's choices where her daughters were concerned.

The second main focus of the book was what happened after the play. I don't want to spoil this section for readers, but I will say that I enjoyed it a lot more than the "play" section of the book. I felt like this was where Saffran's writing had a chance to shine. The characters became solid and I learned to accept them - flaws and all. I was also humbled by how the island all came together to support Jenny and her girls.

Overall, this was a great read and I would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of contemporary adult fiction. This novel focuses heavily on island life as well as the workings of a single parent household with a history of abuse. I also really enjoyed the connections to Shakespeare's The Tempest and the musical references that litter the text. Saffran's knack at character creation is superb. I could see using this text as a model for how it should be done.

One Last Gripe: It was frustrating to me that the characters went by their names from the play in the beginning of the book and then switched to their real names at the end. I understood the purpose behind it, but it made trying to keep everyone straight difficult at times.

My Favorite Thing About This Book: The setting and Saffran's beautiful language

First Sentence: There was one day in early June of each year when theater-loving residents of San Juan Island, Washington, listened more eagerly than usual for the echoing horn of the ferry in Friday Harbor.

Favorite Character: Frankie

Least Favorite Character: Lily

Love takes center stage when a single mother and her teenage daughters play Juno, Iris and Ceres in a summer production of The Tempest.

Jenny Alexander has sought refuge from a troubled past on a tiny, verdant island, off the coast of Washington state. Surrounded by the cold water of the Puget Sound, she does her best to raise her girls, innocent Frankie, and thrill-seeking Lilly, in a tight-knit community of eccentrics and dreamers.

The island bursts open each summer with the arrival of actors leading the annual Shakespeare production. A handsome thespian from New York reawakens Jenny to long-buried desires. As the intensity of rehearsals builds toward the live run of The Tempest, a potent mixture of actors, islanders and tourists, besotted by verse and swept up in the romance of the theater, spills the enchantment of the play into the lives of the players.

When Jenny finds her daughters caught up in a "brave new world" of love and heartbreak, she is ultimately thrust into a command performance that will resonate in all their lives.