Juniper Lemon is a high-school junior in the USA. She has recently lost her sister Camilla in a road accident. Before her death Camilla, the successful older sister, invented what she called her Happiness Index. Every day she would enter on cards reasons to be cheerful.
Juniper followed suit except that on her cards she entered both positive and negative factors. After Camilla’s death instead of entering the date on her cards she enters the days that have passed since her sister’s death. Then card number 65 goes missing. Juniper, while grieving, must now embark on a quest to find the missing card. She also discovers a letter written by her sister. It is a letter signalling the end of a relationship. But the name of the recipient is not stated. Who was Camilla’s mysterious ex-partner?
Israel presents a picture of grief which is more convincing than many fictional presentations of that emotion. Juniper’s grief spills out in messy eruptions. Her former best friend gives her up, unable to cope. Her mother declines to discuss the bereavement. Her father discusses it but only in unconvincing clichés. Over all hangs the image of the departed sister. Juniper’s hunt for the truth leads her to rummage through the school garbage, an occupation that brings her into contact with Brand Sayers, a typical school misfit with whom against the odds she establishes a firm relationship.
The narrative ends with at least one major question unanswered. While such an ending lends the story verisimilitude, it may also prove frustrating, as it did for this reviewer.