Review: Jelly Bean Summer, by Joyce Magnin

Jelly Bean Summer, by Joyce Magnin

Genre: Middle grade fiction
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Expected publication: May 2, 2017.
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Summary: Joyce has had it with her family (especially with UFO-sighting Elaine who loves her guinea pig more than her own sister). Her solution? Move out of the house and pitch a tent on the roof for the summer. But when she spots a boy watching her from a neighbouring roof she's stunned - and intrigued.

Brian recently lost his brother and the two instantly bond over their messed-up families. To help Brian repair his brother's truck, they concoct a scheme to build and sell tickets to a UFO display. Even Elaine agrees to help ... until unexpected events test the limits of Joyce's family ties.

Set in 1968 Pennsylvania, Jelly Bean Summer is a bittersweet exploration of childhood and belonging. Joyce is (among other reasons) fed up with her UFO-seeing, guinea-pig-loving older sister and decides to sleep outside on the roof. She meets and bonds with Brian, a neighbourhood boy that shares Joyce's experience in mourning the loss (though, in different ways) of a brother to Vietnam.

To be honest, this was slow-going for me at first and I didn't get fully invested in the story until about halfway through when Joyce recruits her older sister, Elaine, to help her and Brian on the UFO project. That being said, I appreciate the overall realism in the story - particularly near the end with Magnin's depiction of Bud returning from Vietnam. Nothing is sugarcoated and it's clear that while the book ends on a hopeful note, each of the Magnin children do have a ways to go before they are better than just "OK." And that's all right.

The writing feels true to the voice and perspective of a young girl. It doesn't shy away from showing emotions ("These things take buckets of tears sometimes.") and gets particularly impressive at parts when Joyce contemplates the nature of killing in this excellent passage:
Someone killed Brian's brother. I wonder if before he died, he killed someone else's brother who killed someone else's brother and it goes on forever. I wonder if Bud has killed people, not because he wanted to, but because that's what soldiers do.
Though the book is set in a particularly turbulent year in American history, outside of Vietnam, thee's no mention of the political/cultural touchstone events. At times I feel like that's a hindrance, but really, I think that's probably true to life considering a child's insular concerns, particularly since Joyce only thinks about Vietnam in relation to her brother.

With that being said,  this books comes in at 253 pages and is recommended for ages 8 and up. It feels a bit long for a child that age, but content-wise it seems right.

An advanced copy of this title was provided via the publisher and Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

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