by Carol Rifka Brunt
June Elbus is a fourteen-year-old who likes herself.
That right there is a hopeful sign. And she's "flawed," in the 14-year-old sense, in that she's physically large, kind of nerdy (she likes Mozart and pretend play, and "nerdy," is a word she uses to describe herself), and largely friendless.
Her uncle is her best friend, and later on, her late uncle's partner steps in to fill that void.
To Brunt's credit, I didn't find myself thinking of June as a quirky character who was actually cooler than everyone else in the story but just didn't realize it. She's a fully developed character, but in fact she's a regular kid. She's not an undiscovered, unrealized super-cool gem, just a fairly average teen girl. Interesting, insightful, and a sort that some people will like, others won't. Just like most people in real life. So what Brunt is getting her readers to do is to root for a girl who is truly no more special than any other real kid.
That's what is so important about this book. June Elbus is average--no outstanding talents like her sister, an actor, and no great insights to share with the world. It's important to create a heroine who is special only because we know her well enough to see that she's a caring, loving, inquisitive person. A character we need to get to know in order to appreciate, and even then she's complex. More than once, I found myself wondering exactly why Uncle Finn so adored his niece. And there's no easy answer. It's not that she is secretly a brilliant artist (though he thinks she has talent) or because she is incredibly funny or an ugly duckling waiting to turn into a swan.
He loves her because she's June--a little nerdy, a lot needy, kinda funny, kinda puppy-dogish. Because she's his niece and he can see that she's a good kid and he loves her and she loves him.
Just like real life, where not every young adult can be a secret archer or divergent or great beauty or brilliant musician.
Most young adults just are who they are, and that's enough for the people who love them. June is a lovable, indelible character, just because she is who she is. I'm grateful young readers get to see that.