Sunday, February 16, 2020

MMGM: My Jasper June by Laurel Snyder

When I was young, my best friend and I found a secret place inside the dense bushes that grew outside the Prospect Park police station. It was a glorious open space where we would spend summer afternoons eating a picnic lunch we'd packed in a shoebox, reading books, drawing, or just talking. It was a place that got us away from parents and siblings and any problems at home.

Naturally, as soon as I began reading My Jasper June, I found my empathy level increasing for the protagonist, Leah Davidson, 13, from the start. Summer vacation has just begun in Ormewood Park, Atlanta, a place seeped in community traditions, all of which the Davidson family used to happily participate in. But now, a long empty summer looms for Leah. It's only been a year since younger brother Sam died as a result of a drowning accident, and since then, her parents, consumed by overwhelming grief, has been shadows of their former happy, vivacious selves. This summer, her mother forgot to make arrangements for Leah to go to camp, and though her dad suggests she take a class, nothing comes of it. Which is fine by Leah.

After spending the first days of vacation hanging around the house, Leah decides to go for a walk, following a path leading to Red's Farm, a place where she and her family used have picnics. It's there, lying on a rock in the nearby creek, that Leah first sees Jasper. The two girls chat a bit, exchange names, and Leah heads home.

Feeling a strange connection to her, Leah returns to the creek every day, hoping to see Jasper again, and finally she does, running into her while washing her clothes in the creek and wearing a nightgown. Leah invites Jasper home to use their washing machine, and a real friendship begins to form. But when Jasper finally takes Leah to her home, it is nothing like she had expected. Jasper lives alone, in a tiny abandoned house with no electricity or running water, hidden behind vines, shrubs, pines and a veil of morning glories. Jasper's hideaway from the world feels magical to Leah, a adventure right out of the books she loves, but Jasper is quick to let her know there is nothing fantastical about her situation, her homelessness is the stuff of the real world and a painful home situation.

The two girls find support and solace with each other, but Leah has promised Jasper not to reveal her secrets to anyone. A terrible storm that hits while she is visiting Jasper becomes a game change, however, when Leah's dad shows up in the middle of the night. Jasper and her circumstances become the catalyst for all the pain, the secrets, the guilt, and the grief to finally be brought out into the open, resulting in a much needed dialogue in the Davidson household. Jasper's homelessness pulls Leah's parents out of the grief-induced lethargy. Which is great, but what about Jasper? What will happen to her?

I have to admit, as I read, I thought this book would go in one of two directions, either it would be a coming out novel or maybe a story with roots in speculative fiction of the haunting variety. And it does have a feeling of fantasy about it, but without crossing that line. Reality always intrudes, as when Jasper reminds Leah that her life "...isn't a game. We aren't playing Narnia or Hogwarts. This is my real life." It doesn't go in either one of those directions, rather, it is reality fiction plain and simple and it deals with some pretty serious realities - death, grief, guilt, abuse, and homelessness. But it handles these in ways that are thoughtful and Snyder tempers these harsh realities with friendship, healing and hope.

Both Jasper and June are such well-defined, sympathetic, believable characters. Coming from very different backgrounds, each finds themselves in circumstances made difficult by the adults who should have been there for them, but weren't. Their friendship becomes a real godsend, providing them with a secret place to work through their feelings on their own.

Snyder draws wonderful characters, but she is also a master at setting. She has a way of taking her readers into her story and, though careful, vibrant description, makes them feel as if they were an invisible part of the story, watching the action unfold while sensory details wash over them. I know I could smell those morning glories outside Jasper's hideaway. I had the same sensation when I read Orphan Island.

My Jasper June is a satisfying story, and one that is sure to become a middle grade classic.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an EARC received from Edelweiss+

Be sure to check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offerings, now being carried on by Greg at Always in the Middle. 


  1. I wasn't really keen on Orphan Island but this sounds like a stronger read. Great review.

  2. Your review has put this one high on my list of books to read in the first six months of 2020. Great premise along with endearing characters are the perfect combination. Thanks for featuring on MMGM.

  3. Outanding review. You made me want to go get a copy! I loved secret places to think, write, sing, imagine with a best friend when I was young. This story speaks to me for many reasons. Thank you so much for sharing "My Jasper June" today! Going on my list. It also reminds me of another book I read and loved a few years ago.

  4. Great review. I just ordered a copy while reading this. I can't wait to find out the whole story. thanks for the post.

  5. Wow! This sounds like a powerful read. Thanks for sharing.

  6. This book sounds unique and intriguing. Thanks for your in-depth review for MMGM.

  7. This looks good! I will have to check it out...


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