June shaves her head the morning after the last day of school because This Summer Is Going To Be Different. Since she’s eleven-turning-twelve and entering junior high, she’s desperate to make the changes that will make her next years of school socially successful. Her mother, a free spirited type of person who joins her in her head-shaving quest, is in a good spot for it, having just been dumped by her insurance-salesman-wannabe-musician boyfriend. Together, the two of them are going to roar – and June is giving up her position as mouse in favor of lion.
When the smoke clears and June looks at her pale, knobbly skull in horror, it’s too late, of course. She and her mother end up with glorious colored wigs that give them temporary leonine feelings, but truly, nothing can give June the lasting equilibrium that she craves. Over the course of the novel, through tentative forays into friendship and flashbacks of terrible memories, it becomes clear that she has to work for it – like everyone else, though she has medication to help her find a space of time to take a breath. The book allows her to reframe her bittersweet experiences into root-building courage.
I often look at books that deal with mental illness, and wonder about the author, and whether they got their information through lived or researched experience. When it comes to race and ethnicity, sexual orientation or whatnot, the slow realization I have had is that it’s kind of a rude, this wondering. Our fixation on “own voices” has led to plenty of readers digging into an author’s background where we have no business. However, because I myself have anxiety, and the topic of this book is a middle grade girl deciding to kick her anxiety to the curb, I still found myself wondering a lot about the author… and kept stopping myself.
And then I wondered if my wondering about my repetitive “wonder if” thoughts being wrong or not wasn’t the MOST anxious person thought spiral, ever (!!!!!). (Yes, send help.) I have concluded that the author might also have anxiety – and she might not. The fact that her writing leaves this an open question is, for me, a sign that she wrote well. It used to be the only thing people required, that the author wrote well, however she got her information. That the character’s experiences with anxiety do not line up entirely with mine simply means that anxiety is as varied as any other human experience. June feels… real, and I imagine if I’d read this book as a junior high student, I would have been more prepared for the onslaught of anxiety in high school. Here’s to all the kids that will be now, and here’s to the author, however she got her information.
Until the next book,
A Constant Reader