Summary: After Juliana’s parents’ divorce, she moves from the happy life she once had in Kenora, Ontario to Winnipeg, Manitoba with just her mother. It’s hard to get used to her new life, especially when her father never comes to visit her. Juliana orchestrates a visit herself, arranging to go and stay at his fishing lodge for a week in the summer. When she arrives, Juliana discovers her father is facing financial troubles, and the fishing tournament the lodge is hosting provides an opportunity for her to help him out. If she can catch the infamous medicine fish living under their boathouse, maybe Juliana can win enough money to keep her father afloat and salvage their relationship. But the medicine fish has been alive for a long, long time, and it’s going to take all of Juliana’s smarts to hook her.
Number of Pages: 150
Age Range: 12-14
Review: Beyond a complicated story about Juliana’s family breaking apart is a masterful piece of writing by Jake MacDonald. Simply put, it’s a vividly descriptive book, and MacDonald catches moments of nature’s beauty through words.
I’ve put my favourite moments in the Memorable Quotes section, but what surprised me most was MacDonald’s ability (pardon the pun) to hook me into a fish story. As Juliana pursued the legendary medicine fish, I kept turning pages, wondering if she’d be able to do it and if it would fix her problems like she so desperately hoped it would.
While I didn’t much like Juliana’s parents, I felt for Juliana as she struggled to make sense of her family after the divorce. When Juliana’s own encounters with her father give her insight into why her mother left, the bleak realisation that her father continually put his fishing lodge over his family was disheartening. I’m not quite sure how to take the ending, though it did show growth on Juliana’s part as she puts the greater good over her own needs.
Juliana and the Medicine Fish is a brief glimpse into Juliana’s life and I was left with questions, but the story itself sparkled once it got going. Hoping to read more of MacDonald’s work in the future.
“Juliana wished that she’d known ahead of time that her parents were going to get divorced. If she’d known, she wouldn’t have let herself enjoy those moments so much, and she wouldn’t miss them as much now that they were gone.” – Juliana from Juliana and the Medicine Fish by Jake MacDonald, page 35
“Whenever she got back to the lodge after being away for a while, she was always startled by how noisy it was at night and how hard it was to sleep. People thought it was powerful and quiet in the woods. But it wasn’t. Towns were quiet. The woods were noisy. Especially on nights like this, when thunder rumbled. And wind gushed through the branches outside her window. And a mouse scampered across the roof. She hated that sound, the scampering of little mouse feet. Down below was the never-ending slosh and gurgle of waves inside the boathouse. Splash, splash.” – from Juliana and the Medicine Fish by Jake MacDonald, page 37
“The water exploded around her, bright green water that was full of bubbles and as cool as ginger ale. She came to the surface, feeling very brave and agile, and waved to Gabby. ‘It’s beautiful, come on in.'” – Juliana from Juliana and the Medicine Fish by Jake MacDonald, page 42
“Juliana sat on the moss with her legs crossed. Minutes passed. She could hear the wind sighing through the jackpines. It was a warm wind, and the sun was warm too, although it was half-obscured as it descended into the rumpled clouds in the west. Tall cumulus clouds, bulging like sails, floated past the face of the sun and, as they passed into its fire, splinters of light shot down through the clouds and reflected on the hammered skin of the lake.” – Juliana from Juliana and the Medicine Fish by Jake MacDonald, pages 54-55