Thursday, October 20, 2022

The Queen of Junk Island, by Alexandra Mae Jones

Ever since Dell's mother found out about the nude photos circulating on the internet, there's been a thick layer of distrust between them.  Allowing her boyfriend to take them showed poor judgment and Mom isn't ready to let Dell out of her sight.  So, when they get a call that they need to come up and check out the family cottage up north, Dell gets dragged along.  There they find that the house, the surrounding woods, and their lake have been being used as an illegal dumping ground.  It will take the entire summer to clean it up -- a perfect getaway for Dell.

Before this, Dell has never spent much time at the cottage.  When they were still alive, her grandparents lived there but Dell and her mother rarely visited.  So spending time there now is a chance to learn more about her family and there is much she doesn't know.  For example, one of the most striking early discoveries is that Dell had an aunt, who died around the time that Dell was born.  The circumstances of that death are shrouded in mystery and no one wants to talk about it, but Dell has her suspicions.  And when she is alone in the woods, she starts to imagine that she's able to commune with her dead aunt.

And then there's Ivy, the daughter of her Mom's new boyfriend.  Against Dell's wishes, she's come to stay with them all summer.  Dell's mother is convinced that Ivy will be a good influence and perhaps get Dell back on the straight and narrow, and tries to force them to bond.  However, neither mother nor daughter truly understand Ivy or can fathom how much she will change Dell's world.

In sum, it's a striking and engaging story of family, secrets kept too long, and sexual desire.  Lots of sexual desire.  Masturbation is a frequent topic in this book and may shock or titillate more than a few readers.  The author's primary interest is Dell's developing sense of bisexuality.  Strangely (for me), the author assumes that the characters (and perhaps the readers as well) will find this hard to accept.  As an afterward explains, biophobia was apparently quite common in Ontario in the 2000s when the author was growing up.  I find this odd because my own personal experience was different -- in Pennsylvania in the 1980s, bisexuality was probably more accepted than homosexuality.  So, the premise of the book rings strangely for me.  I guess Canadians are a bit more backward in this regard.

Beyond the themes intended to shock, there lies a nice story with some odd supernatural moments involving the aunt's ghost.  Mostly, it serves up a very satisfying reconciliation of family and revelation of secrets.  For anyone who enjoys a good family drama where through struggle and tears (but no tragic ending) old wounds are healed, this book is rewarding and enjoyable.

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