“Over time, we teach ourselves to stop feeling. It’s the only way we survive.” She taps her breastbone with her index finger. “It all becomes scar tissue and gristle. It’s such a shame. So just let yourself feel it, truthfully and wholly, because one day you won’t any more.”
“But I don’t want to feel like this. It really hurts.” My voice crackles.
“It’s better than nothing at all. Believe you me.”
“The problem with young people today,” Margot said about an hour ago, “is that, from birth, every single one has been told that they are somehow special.”
Well, you can’t argue with that assertion. Margot’s not a fan of special snowflake syndrome.
Fliss and her mum have gone to live in Wales with her grandmother, Margot, for six months, while Janet recovers from ovarian cancer. Fliss is unimpressed: she misses her friends and her sort-of-boyfriend Xander, and she’s not a fan of the dirty farm or the aloof and unemotional Margot.
Things change when Fliss finds Margot’s diary in a dusty old chest in the attic. Fliss loves sixteen-year-old Margot, and can’t wait to see how her story got her to where she is today: she was in love with a man who wasn’t Fliss’s grandfather, and Fliss can’t understand how their seemingly perfect relationship could have failed.
One thing severely hampered my enjoyment of this novel: it was riddled with errors. I always try to refrain from judging books too harshly for mistakes, but that’s because I’m normally reading advance reader’s copies and those aren’t final. This one was.
I’ve left it a few days to write this review, because I felt very conflicted. I enjoyed the letters that told Margot’s story, but Fliss didn’t really have her own plot. Everything that happened to her was because of other people: she had a crush on the school librarian which she only got past when he rejected her; she only matured because of her mother’s illness; her respect for Margot only developed because she discovered her diary. I can’t think of one aspect of her character that she developed herself.
I was only interested in Margot’s diary, and at multiple points I actually considered jumping to the next one. Fliss’s reaction didn’t add anything to the story for me, and it explains why this novel is so much longer than Juno’s previous releases: there was lots of unnecessary waffle. If I hadn’t been looking after my friend’s cat with no access to the internet, it would have taken me a lot longer to crawl through this book. Similarly, if this story had just focused on Margot and being an evacuated teenager, it would have been five stars. Juno really brings the era to life, and the tense atmosphere of a country at war is beautifully crafted.
But as soon as it gets to the present plot, everything falls apart. I couldn’t understand why it was set in the late 90’s. It didn’t add anything to the plot, and the stereotypical references got old very fast. I can only imagine this was chosen to allow Fliss to be the same age as Margot in her diary entries, but that’s a shallow reason. It doesn’t feel as though Juno had any love for the decade, because at multiple points it feels like it could be set today – it’s not authentic.
So many aspects don’t make sense looking back. What was the point in Peanut the piglet? Yes, he caused more conflict between Margot and Fliss, but then he just disappeared into the background. What was the point of that weird chapter where Fliss did her make-up and then smashed her lipstick in the mirror? I didn’t sit comfortably with any other part of the story and it was another thing that did nothing to the plot. That’s why the synopsis I’ve written above is so short – no other aspect of the story seems relevant enough to mention.
This book was just a mess. On top of everything else, it’s forgettable: I’ve been reading back through my notes, and while I felt all warm and fuzzy at the time and was certain that it deserved a high rating, I have no way of justifying that anymore. This is another reason I’ve been putting off this review, because I hoped that my love for it would come back… I’m just confused about how my feelings have changed so quickly. It might have been because I loved ‘All of the Above’ and just assumed I was going to love this one too, but that’s another reason I held off on reviewing it.