Thursday, December 29, 2011

Junebug by Alice Mead

Junebug has only 100 pages and yet it packs in a powerful story of growing up African American, poor, in a single parent family and in “the projects”. Luckily Junebug is living near water. I looked on Google maps to see New Haven, Connecticut and now I understand about the ferry trip he takes with his mother and little sister Tasha.

More on that ferry trip in a moment. Junebug has a big dream. The dream to go sailing. As the story opens we hear Junebug's thoughts as he imagines he is on a small yacht trimming the sails and following the breeze. Reading this book at this time in Australia feels quite serendipitous as the Sydney to Hobart Yacht race is just concluding. While it is wonderful Junebug has such a magical dream by contrast he is living in such a dreadful environment. It almost makes you cry out in pain for him and his sister. His neighborhood is dominated by poverty and drug dealers.

There’s just a wall of old, smashed-up windows rising up to the sky. The embankment is piled high with dead leaves and trash stuck up against the fence … burned out cars sit in the lot, with no tires on them.”

There is one small glimmer of kindness in the form of a library run by volunteers and housed in a small space in the basement of his apartment building. One truly special lady comes each day and she has begun to teach Tasha to read. I love the way she uses Peter Rabbit to do this. Then in an awful heart wrenching scene violence erupts outside the door of the library and Mrs Swanson, an elderly lady who works as a volunteer running the library declares “That’s it … as of today, the library is closed. I refuse to stay here any more. I’ll tell the church. The reading program is over.”

Turning ten will mean Junebug will be forced to participate in a gang and this is something he dreads but can see no way to avoid until his mother mentions she has the chance of a new job in a different part of town, a new job of living in and caring for elderly people so Junebug and Tasha would live in a new home and attend a different school.

Now back to the dream of sailing. Junebug has a fabulous plan. He has been collecting bottles and he plans to write notes to place inside each one. For his birthday he has told his mother all he wants is corks. Can you make a connection between the bottles, corks and the ferry ride?

I now discover there are two more books about Junebug so I will need to investigate these for our library. I have also discovered that Oprah has book lists for children and that this title once appeared on her list. I don't usually give books a rating but I would give this one ten out of ten!

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