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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Juniper Berry by M.P. Kozlowsky

Juniper Berry
M.P. Kozlowsky
Out today!  
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Juniper's parents have not been themselves lately. In fact, they have been cold, disinterested and cruel. And lonely Juniper Berry, and her equally beset friend, Giles, are determined to figure out why.

On a cold and rainy night Juniper follows her parents as they sneak out of the house and enter the woods. What she discovers is an underworld filled with contradictions: one that is terrifying and enticing, lorded over by a creature both sinister and seductive, who can sell you all the world's secrets in a simple red balloon. For the first time, Juniper and Giles have a choice to make. And it will be up to them to confront their own fears in order to save the ones who couldn't.

M.P. Kozlowsky's debut novel is a modern-day fairy tale of terror, temptation, and ways in which it is our choices that make us who we are.

When I came across this on Goodreads, it became one of those things that just takes over your brain.  Or takes over my brain, anyway... Everything from the cover to the title to the fantastic little tag line just called to me.  So when I was offered a copy out of the blue, of course I casually said, Oh, thanks but nah.... O_O  Or HELLS YEAH.  It was one of the two.
And when it came in the mail (so if you went with Choice 1, sorry, you lose), I promptly sat down and made short work of it.  And though the beginning was a little rocky for me, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Juniper Berry for me was interesting in that it pleased both my adult side and the 9 year old Misty that was obsessed with creepy books and made her mother worry that she had "unhealthy" reading habits (because apparently to moms, Goosebumps is acceptable only in small doses.  A steady diet of it = serial killer, or something.  Or, at least that's what meddling neighbors lead moms to believe. Moving on...)  Reading it, I got the same impression I had when I read Coraline: that my younger self would have eaten this up.  It was just creepy enough, and unflinching in its darker aspects, that it would have delighted me to no end.  It had this fantastic dark circus feel, with fairy tale elements in there as well (hence it's inclusion in Fairy Tale Fortnight), but it still remained its own thing.  There were certain little unexpected elements that delighted me (kid and adult) and gave it this great visual appeal, and I have always loved a book that makes you see what is going on and leaves you with lasting images.  Certain quirky things are always going to pop into my head when I think of this book, and I love that.
This is of course aided by the fantastic illustrations.  My copy, being unfinished, only had some of the illustrations, which means I'll have to track down a finished copy to see the rest.  But from what I saw, they were perfectly suited to the text, and stylized nicely.

I mentioned Coraline earlier, and I want to bring it up what more time because the comparison doesn't end just in the fact that I liked it as an adult and now I would have loved it as a kid.  It also reminded me of Coraline in that it was disturbing in the way that Coraline was disturbing.  In Coraline, there was the Other Mother, and good lord, if she is not the creepiest character for a kid to read...  And it's not just the black button eyes, or the eating of souls.  She's disturbing because she is a parent (or, looks like one and pretends to be one, anyway).  Though there is a villain in this (more on him in a minute), what ups the disturbing factor in this is the parents.   You know - and Juniper knows - that they are good people, but that something is wrong.  Having your parents do these strange dark things ups the creep out factor immensely, and I loved it.

But moving on to the actual villain of the piece, Skeksyl, my reaction to him was...interesting.  In some respects, he's a very good villain.  He's creepy, he's dark, he's tempting, and he has a raven for a sidekick.   (Villain: ☑).  But there was one thing that I found off-putting, and this is just because I'm me.  I don't think kids would be bothered by this, but every time Skeksyl is described by Juniper, his nasally, high-pitched, screechy voice is mentioned, which just made me want to laugh.  I can't take a villain seriously with a nasally, high-pitched, screechy voice (unless it's a wicked witch, and then, sure).  I know that's minor and silly, but it affected my overall impression of the villain, and really, I just needed to share that with someone.  So there.  I could have done with a little more subtlety from him, too, but whatever, it's a kids book.

And Skeksyl was the only one that got on my nerves at all or made me question.  I loved all of the other characters, especially Juniper.  She's smart and quirky and strong, and above all else, she knows herself.  She knows who she is and what she wants (which is kinda the point of the whole thing), and beyond just loving this personally, I think it sends a powerful and much-needed message to young readers.  I love having a character for this age group who is so self-aware and confident in who she is.  I love that she's not ashamed of her intelligence and her interests.  Juniper knows who she is and says so proudly.  The book as a whole is a great statement on insecurity and acceptance, and it's refreshing and welcome.  That's why, if you know a kid who will be able to handle the darker elements, I would highly suggest recommending them (or gifting them!) this book.

Side note: I absolutely adore it when an author uses big words for young kids, and uses them without being condescending or explaining/excusing the word away.  Just unashamedly using a word and meaning it.  I love that.  Respect your reader (and your reader's intelligence and inquisitiveness), and they'll respect you.

Make sure to stop back by tomorrow when I have a special Juniper Berry surprise!!! :)


  1. Gah, I can't wait to get my hands on this one. Eating up all the truly original and unique stories I can these days.
    Formula books be damned!

  2. This one sounds deliciously creepy. Also your mother's assessment of your 9 year old self's reading habits cracks me up. So glad I decided to pre-order this one!

  3. This sounds like the perfect book for both the adult and kid in me...great review!

  4. I love books like this! Sounds great, and the cover is amazing!
    Great review!

  5. This book sounds right up my alley! The cover is really eye-catching and the name Juniper Berry is so adorable! It's great that she is such a confident character and not ashamed of who she is. I agree that this is a message that young kids need to hear more these days.

  6. Oh wow! This book sounds awesome. I'll have to read it and make sure my library has a copy.

    Great review! :)

  7. This sounds like the kind of book that my kids would love. Unfortunately they gravitate to the Goosebumps at the library. Something new that is creepy would be great for them.

  8. I never got into Goosebumps (the endings were a major turn off for the young me--it never ended well!) but this sounds really good and I'm liking the illustrations (and the uncondescending language you mentioned)!

  9. PS After I saw Coraline in theaters with my sisters, a little 4 YO-ish girl ran up to me, hugged my legs, and called me her Other Mother. O_o I don't think she really got the movie. At least, I hope she didn't.

  10. Oh my word, that is one of the funniest things I've ever heard! ;P

  11. I've got a granddaughter who would love this. I know what to get her for her birthday.


    alterlisa AT yahoo DOT com

  12. Sounds perfect! And I too love when authors treat younger readers with respect not as if they don't know anything!


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