by Sarah Jio
Published by Plume
Genre: fiction; women’s fiction
4 / 5
The New York Times bestselling author of Blackberry Winter imagines the inspiration for Goodnight Moon
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (Goodnight Songs) is an adored childhood classic, but its real origins are lost to history. In Goodnight June, Sarah Jio offers a suspenseful and heartfelt take on how the “great green room” might have come to be.
June Andersen is professionally successful, but her personal life is marred by unhappiness. Unexpectedly, she is called to settle her great-aunt Ruby’s estate and determine the fate of Bluebird Books, the children’s bookstore Ruby founded in the 1940s. Amidst the store’s papers, June stumbles upon letters between her great-aunt and the late Margaret Wise Brown—and steps into the pages of American literature.
Sarah Jio has a formula, and she sticks to it: a woman in the present must discover herself by uncovering and understanding secrets from the past.
Goodnight June does not deviate from the script.
Returning to Seattle is NOT on June’s “To-D0” list, yet she is compelled to go because dear Aunt Ruby has passed away and left June the bookstore, a place where June feels she truly grew up. She leaves behind a job that she likes but certainly does not fulfill her. She helps close down struggling businesses, and it’s as if she’s closed herself down, too. June is struggling, as much as any small business. Rather than open herself up to possible success, though, she’s put a “foreclosure” sign on her heart. This doesn’t just extend to men – she shuts out her mother and sister as well.
When she meets Gavin, the good looking and kindhearted owner of the Italian restaurant next door, she is reluctant to trust him, but she slowly does. This coincides with her discovery of a scavenger hunt of sorts, left her by Aunt Ruby. It consists of letters exchanged between Aunt Ruby and Margaret Wise Brown, the woman who wrote Goodnight Moon, amongst other childhood favorites.
June is entranced and determined to put together the puzzle that increasingly is becoming Aunt Ruby. One of the “sub plots” of the letters is sisterhood. Both Margaret and Ruby have difficult, challenging relationships with their sisters, just as June does with hers. The more she reads about the women’s attempts at reconciliation, though, the less inclined June is for her own rapprochement. She is convinced that she was the wronged party and as such her sister is persona non grata.
In fact, her refusal to even listen to her sister’s side of the story is one of June’s less flattering attributes. Without it, though, she would be almost unlikable because she’s almost too perfect. She needs the flaws in order to get us on her side.
This is an enjoyable book, and June is an enjoyable character. You can see the plot twists coming, which perhaps is because Jio’s stories do tend to stick to that formula. If you’ve read Violets in March, Morning Glory, or Blackberry Winter, you know to expect certain zigs and zags. Still, though, Jio can write a compelling story with characters who seem just like us yet who allow us to escape being us, even if just for a little while.