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.
I love delving into worlds featuring the fantastic. If left up to me, life would be a fantasy...or a fairy tale. I love novels brimming with epic quests and the discovery that comes as a child discovers him/herself. JUNIPER BERRY by M.P. Kozlowsky fills all of these requirements, albeit in a creepy, unforgiving way. The novel’s children, Juniper and Giles, are forced to grow up as them embark on a journey to save their parents.
Everyone has been comparing JUNIPER BERRY to the little-known tale THE JUNIPER TREE by The Brothers Grimm, but I have trouble seeing the connection aside from, you know, the juniper tree. Think of a book that has been adapted into the worst adaptation of a movie you’ve ever seen. You get annoyed at how different they are, how the two only share a name. Comparing JUNIPER BERRY to THE JUNIPER TREE is like that: The comparison is too loose with next to no connections. THE JUNIPER TREE reminds me more of the eerie, yet awesome musical SWEENEY TODD by Stephen Sondheim, full of death, secrets, and mayhem. JUNIPER BERRY…does not. So don’t go into this novel expecting something twisted or demented, because you won’t find it. Don’t forget: This is a middle-grade novel for kids. If it was too crazy, they’d be scarred for life. Heck, the book’s already creepy enough that I would have been hiding under my covers after reading it as a child. It has just the right amount of creep (because I was a scaredy-cat child): Not too much, not too little. “Just right,” as Goldilocks would say!
The novel centers around a girl named Juniper Berry, who lives in a mansion with her dog (delightfully named Kitty) and her famous movie star parents. She grew up sheltered and loved. As her parents’ stars began shining brighter, it was harder to go out and be “normal” people. Juniper is home-schooled and doesn’t know how to participate in childhood staples such as Hide-and-Seek. Her private tutors are more than happy to stick her with work then take off to snoop into the lives of such famous actors. Lately, Juniper’s parents have no time for her. They’re always rehearsing, and they brush her off or say mean things to her. Something has changed. One day while wandering in the local woods, Juniper meets a boy named Giles. Giles’ parents have been acting as strange as Juniper’s, and Giles is looking for a tree he saw them disappear into the previous night. That night, Juniper follows her parents and sees the same thing. Together, Juniper and Giles find a way to open the ominous tree favored by a lone black raven.
Inside the tree, they meet a mysterious man named Skeksyl and discover that the raven, Neptune, is his companion. The description for Skeksyl brought an image of Kamaji from the movie SPIRITED AWAY (see below) to mind. Take a look:
“He was extremely tall, taller than any man Juniper had ever seen. In fact, almost everything about him had length. Each body part was extended: long legs, long arms, long neck, long fingers. He was enveloped in a ratty hooded cloak, his elongated face concealed in shadow. His bony pale fingers wrapped around a wood staff, and Juniper noticed his nails were long as well, and dark, as if painted midnight blue. As the shroud pulled tight against his body with each movement and gesture, it was clear how very feminine it was. There seemed to be no fat whatsoever and little muscle—a fragile, lank, and stretched frame. Barefoot—his feet were nearly skeletal—he leaned against the staff, hunched over and shifting all his weight to one hip. He was a gangly creature, and would have seemed close to the point of breaking if it were not for how he slithered about; his limbs like anacondas in their movement.”
-Page 103, ARC; changes may have been made before final version launched in April
The entire novel is filled with such descriptive prose. The cover states that JUNIPER BERRY is “a tale of terror and temptation,” and rightly so. While not so terrifying as an adult, the language and visuals will hit their target audience dead-on. It’s hard to describe. The tone reminds me a lot of CORALINE by Neil Gaiman. It has the same texture/flavor that I’m trying to explain to you. The aspect of temptation is woven in deftly, filling the tale with strong morals, but in a way that never preaches.
Finally, the imagery. This book is FULL of illustrations by Erwin Madrid. My ARC came with unfinished artwork, so I had to go to the store and get my hands on a final copy to see the art in all its glory. Each image adds atmosphere. You can see several images in the book trailer below. To the right is an example of one image from the novel, used with permission from Walden Pond Press. I love the elongated style of the images and the way shadows stretch. This is an image of when Juniper and Giles first meet Skeksyl. Isn’t he creepy? Way creepier than Kamaji. Maybe that image would have never come to mind if I’d seen this skeletal creature the first time I read the description. Or maybe I would have. I’ll never know. Look at the shadow people haunting the background, especially the tree-like curve to their limbs. Juniper and Giles have long arms as well. These images add a lot of atmosphere to the novel and are sure to give readers goosebumps. Misty from The Book Rat features another fabulous illustration from JUNIPER BERRY in her amazing review. And without Misty, I would never have known this book existed in the first place, so you should all go read her fantabulous review. Seriously, you should.
I liked this cover so much that I recently featured it for Cover Crazy. My favorite thing is the way the tree takes center stage. Doesn’t it look spooky? I love gnarled, creepy trees. They have so much atmosphere! I *really* like the way the title is created to look like tree branches and the way the subtext and author’s name are etched into the tree. The same fabulous, elongated styling of the characters is present on the characters, and the fact that the coloring is that of sunset adds a lot of atmosphere. There’s a lot to love about this cover!
[This entry is part of The Story Siren's Debut Author Challenge of 2011. See how I've done so far here.]
(Oh yes, and I forgot: Here's that trailer I promised you, full of more wonderful imagery by Erwin Madrid:)