The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones
Author: Daven McQueen
Publisher: Wattpad Books
Release Date: June 16, 2020
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
It’s the summer of 1955. For Ethan Harper, a biracial kid raised mostly by his white father, race has always been a distant conversation. When he’s sent to spend the summer with his aunt and uncle in small-town Alabama, his Blackness is suddenly front and center, and no one is shy about making it known he’s not welcome there. Except for Juniper Jones. The town’s resident oddball and free spirit, she’s everything the townspeople aren’t―open, kind, and full of acceptance.
Armed with two bikes and an unlimited supply of root beer floats, Ethan and Juniper set out to find their place in a town that’s bent on rejecting them. As Ethan is confronted for the first time by what it means to be Black in America, Juniper tries to help him see the beauty in even the ugliest reality, and that even the darkest days can give rise to an invincible summer.
Daven McQueen’s Juniper Jones is a character for all ages in this sweet coming of age story set in 1950s Alabama.
exclusive interview with author on
acceptance, identity, and true friendship
Question: What inspired you to write The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones?
Daven McQueen: The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones started as a summer lakeside story – I knew I wanted to write about friends in a small town by the water, but that idea alone wasn’t actually compelling to me. This was in my senior year of high school, as I was beginning to read more books by authors of color and realizing how much those narratives had been excluded from the stories I’d read growing up. As a biracial person, I decided I wanted to write a character who looked like me in a story that would allow him (and me) to grapple with racism, allyship, and identity, and the novel grew from there.
Q: Why did you choose to set this story in the 1950’s? How would the story be different if it took place in 2020?
DM: I feel that setting this story in the 1950s allowed me to more clearly articulate the racism Ethan faces. By having it take place before high-speed communication and the 24-hour news cycle, I had space to make Ethan’s reckoning with race more internal, focused primarily on his own lived experiences. In 2020, it would be impossible for Ethan’s naivete to be so pronounced, and he would likely be dealing with racism in the form of insidious microaggressions that he and the people close to him would have to process and work through differently. I wanted to write a story that could focus on its main characters and their immediate situation without too much interference from the greater world around them, and that felt most possible with a historical setting.
Q: How did you create the character Juniper? And how did you create her relationship with Ethan?
DM: Juniper was definitely inspired by some of my favorite childhood characters – Pippi Longstocking, Anne Shirley, Stargirl, Jo from Little Women – but her character felt like she came to the story mostly complete. I’d chosen the name Juniper from a street near my parents’ house (one my my favorite ways to collect character names), and it was such a bubbly, summery name that her personality came naturally. In creating her relationship with Ethan, I was really focused on building a strong and believable friendship. I imagined her first as a character who supported Ethan through everything – then, building on that, I thought about the ways that, even if she cared for Ethan unconditionally, she would make mistakes and even hurt him because of her limited understanding of racism. I felt that allowing moments for Juniper to mess up and Ethan to call her out on it made their friendship stronger, because it could stand through difficult conversations.
Q: In the story, Ethan grapples with understanding his identity. What do you hope your readers take away from Ethan’s struggle to accept himself while rejection is all around him?
DM: I hope that Ethan’s story makes clear the importance of a community, no matter how small. Ethan’s friendship with Juniper and their community of two is what helps carry him through his summer in Ellison. And moments of community with people who understand your lived experiences, as Ethan has with his mother, are invaluable to processing pain and healing together.
Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced while writing The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones?
DM: I found it especially difficult to write about forgiveness in Invincible Summer. It was hard to balance wanting better relationships between Ethan and the people close to him while also honoring the pain they caused him that apologies and even growth can’t make up for. In the end, I think the challenge was acknowledging that maybe forgiveness wasn’t and didn’t need to be possible, but still allowing the characters to start rebuilding their relationships.
Q: Do you have any advice for readers who identify with Ethan and face the same struggles that he does in the book?
DM: To readers of color who struggle or have struggled with their identity, whether because of racism, being the only one, or any other reason: I see you, I get you. Your feelings are valid; you’re allowed to be sad, angry, confused – and sitting with and processing how you feel is a huge first step to stepping into your power and loving who you are.
about the author
Daven McQueen grew up outside of Los Angeles, California. She graduated from Brown University, where she earned a B.A. in literary arts and economics. When she’s not writing, Daven can be found tap dancing, embroidering, cooking, and eating dessert. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts and works in education.