Monday, March 25, 2013

Juniper Berry by M. P. Kozlowsky

(On Friday I posted a bit of the first page of Juniper Berry, so after you read this review you might want to check it out)

I was instantly drawn in by the first sentence of this middle-grade novel: "The house was a mansion, the lake was a pool, Kitty was a dog, and Juniper Berry was an eleven-year-old girl."

It's one of those magical first sentences that gives you the chills and envelops you in the world right from the start.

This is a story about the choices we make -- the choices that define us.  It's about temptation to buy into being the same as everyone else, and it's about the terror of feeling alone.

Juniper Berry is an eleven year old with no friends and severely neglectful parents.  The child of two movie stars, she spends her days distant -- from her parents and the world around her.  With her dog, Kitty, and every kind of lense imaginable (monocular, binocular, telescope, periscope, etc.), she explores from afar and dreams of the day when her parents will notice her again.

She meets a strange boy named Giles whose parents are musicians, and together they solve the mystery behind their parents' meteoric rise to fame -- which includes a mysterious tree, a talking raven, and a handful of balloons.

This is a modern moral fable.  It has a lot to say about the price of fame -- the changes, the loss of personal identity and privacy and the pressure of pleasing a constant audience.

It also speaks to the hardships one must endure to keep the essence of who they are, despite pressure to conform.

Although this might seem a heady subject for middle-schoolers, I think it is a perfect opportunity for middle-grade readers to begin understanding the cost of living a false life.  Juniper Berry is a genuine, honest, heartfelt individual who remains true to herself despite the agony of being an outsider and the temptations to 'live a perfect life' by living shallowly.

I needed this book.  It came at a time when I was struggling through what Juniper deals with -- wondering if, perhaps, being ourselves is too difficult and if embracing a life in the shallow end wouldn't be easier.  But as we see in this story, our own lives are worth living, no matter what pain we experience.  We are who we are, and if we lie to ourselves about that, we aren't going to be happy, even if we receive everything we ask for.

This is the third book I've received from Walden Pond Press (an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers) and I am continually impressed with the caliber of their authors (and illustrators!).  This one might be my favorite of the three for the way its author words things, the front cover, and the themes expressed throughout the story.

Definitely put this one on your Goodreads list, and if you've read it, let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Note: my new website is almost ready!  I need two more photos and a few more words and I'm good to go.  I'll link to it once it's complete.  Remember, I'll still be doing book reviews on this site.

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