Thursday, March 24, 2011

Juniper Berry

Juniper Berry
M. P. Kozlowsky
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Walden Pond Press (April 26, 2011)
Amazon Vine ARC reviewed.
4/5 stars

Subtitled "a tale of terror and temptation", Juniper Berry is a modern day fairy tale.  Our heroine is the brave preteen, Juniper Berry.  Juniper is the daughter of film actors, who have become very famous over the course of the past few years.  The more famous they have become, the more odd they have acted and the more they have distanced themselves from her.  She is sad and lonely and would willingly give up everything to have her old life back.

One day she spots a boy about her age, trespassing in her woods.  Over the course of conversation with her new friend, she discovers that his parents, too, are famous and distant.  Even worse: Giles has seen them doing something very odd in Juniper's woods.

Piecing together the unthinkable, Juniper and Giles set out to save their parents from whatever influence is causing this behavior.  What they discover changes them both, and Juniper faces tough choices, terrible temptation, but comes through a true fairy tale heroine.

Juniper Berry  is told from an omniscient narrator and occasionally uses words that I feel are probably not in the vocabulary of a 9-12 year old.  This happens early in the book, though, and the narration evens out as the story builds.  It has a good pace, and the story unfolds smoothly.  The characters of Juniper and Giles are particularly appealing, making their weaknesses seem all the more vulnerable and believable.   Juniper's parents are truly horrible, and the reader is able to feel Juniper's mix of hurt and confusion, making the redemption of said parents even sweeter.

Like most fairy tales, Juniper Berry has a moral, and it is spelled out very plainly at the end by the wood chopper (yes, there IS a wood chopper, told you this is a fairy tale!), Dmitri:
"There will always be temptation, wherever we go in life, with whatever we do.  There will always be an easier way out.  But there's nothing to gain from that.  We have to overcome such urges; we have to be stronger.  I fought hard and won."
While the moral of this story is a good one, it came across a bit preachy to me.  I felt like this moral of resisting temptation and winning as a result was obvious from Juniper's actions and didn't need to be spelled out.  However, I am not one of the targeted age-group; I am an adult reader.

This was Kozlowsky's first novel, and overall he did well.  There are a few things (namely vocabulary and blatant moralizing) that I think could be improved, and I expect will be improved with his next publication.  I hope he is published again soon, and would look forward to reading another of his fairy tales.

~~Read for the "fairy tale" category of the Once Upon a Time Challenge~~
I felt that Juniper Berry was a solid choice for the fairy tale category, as it contained many of the traditional elements of a fairy tale.  There is an unusually brave and selfless heroine, elements of the supernatural, an animal that can communicate with people and an unspeakably evil villain.  The ending is a happy one, with a universal moral.

It does differ from many of standard fairy tales, as it is set in modern day, and there is no magic for our heroine to use, not everyone involved does live happily ever after, and there is no under privileged person gaining what s/he deserves as a result. 

In addition, Juniper Berry feels like a fairy tale.  It's not obvious at first, but once the action starts happening, one realizes that this is a layered fairy tale, that there will be a moral, that it's not just a fantasy.  I think it's the temptation element that does it.  It seems to me that many fairy tale heroes have to resist a temptation that seems really great on the outside, but will ruin them if they take it.

Yes, on the whole, Juniper Berry follows the fairy tale template more so than not, and quite successfully so, to my mind.

No comments:

Post a Comment