Alas, the library won’t give me any more extensions with Juniper: The girl who was born too soon, a preemie-parent memoir that came out in the past year. So I guess I have to wrap up my little micro-reviews of the book, which were previously here and here.
This book is an emotional roller-coaster that deftly describes the in-between zone of the NICU when you’re a parent wondering if your child will live, wondering if you did the right thing by trying to save her. The majority of the book is spent in the first two months of Juniper’s life, when she got necrotizing enterocolitis, a blood clot in her heart, and chylothorax, a condition I’d never heard of that involved mysterious fluid in the lungs.
The book follows a format in which the parents switch off writing a chapter, a format which you would think would be really annoying but it actually works pretty well. It brings together the altering coping mechanisms, how one parent would be miserable while the other would be in denial, and there would also be an occasional reference to marital counseling, which makes me wonder if they didn’t learn this technique in marital counseling before the baby was born as a way to make sure both spouses stories could be fully told.
The book’s style is one to keep the reader moving quickly, with a dramatic summary sentence at the beginning of each chapter, “She had survived a week,” or “The honeymoon was such a distant memory that it no longer seemed real,” and “The NICU was swallowing me.” And most of them end with a punchy emotion, too, “As soon as the words left my mouth, I wanted to yank them back.”
The memoir genre imitates novels and competes with them, too, so it only makes sense that this book would be acting like an action novel or a medical drama. And yet, there were times that I felt like some slowness would have been called for since the parents were stuck in that room for so long and looking forward to a long, different life as a result of what was happening. Another preemie-parent memoir, This Lovely Life, by Vicki Forman, does engage in this emotional richness, opening with three devastating pages on what grief will do to you. This isn’t a major problem, it’s just that Juniper is more about the action than about the emotion. (It does bear pointing out that Vicki Forman is a creative writing professor, while the Frenches are both journalism instructors, and their respective trainings certainly leak through in to their books.)
In sum, Juniper is a great book. In the microgenre of micropreemie parent books, I’d say it’s the best one to come out in the past 10 years, even better than Half Baked, by Alexa Stevenson.