Juniper Berry by M.P. Kozlowsky is a modern day fairy tale. Now that is a phrase that gets bandied about a lot, so let me explain. It is a fairy tale because it has much in common with old school fairy tales. It is dark, creepy, and has a moral. Modern day is pretty self explanatory. This fairy tale deals with modern day temptations and preoccupations, namely the preoccupation with celebrity, never ending quest for success, and a desire to maintain one's youthful appearance.
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
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.
I can see this book appealing to kids. It is sufficiently creepy and fast paced to keep them reading. The villain is truly scary and the way his operation works inventive. Don't be surprised if interest in balloons takes a sudden drop after reading this. Juniper and Giles are not exactly average kids and they are misfits but I can see kid readers relating to them. The book is illustrated (by Erwin Madrid) and these illustrations were one of my favorite parts of the novel.
A real weakness of the book was the development of Juniper's character though. She is lonely, she yearns save her parents, she wants her old life back. She is brave and heroic when needed. She is special. The kind of special that causes the villain to desperately want her soul above all others. The kind of special that causes Giles to want to save them both. The kind of special that requires her survival because the world needs her. The kind of special that makes her the only one capable of breaking the terrible curse the adults are under. The book tells us all this. What it never shows us is how she is special. What is it about Juniper that gives her the strength to do what she does? Also, the end was a little too tidy. There was no real sacrifice required to achieve the victory.
Another thing that bothered me was that this was a Message book. It is an unsubtle Message book and those annoy me no matter what age group they are aimed for. The message was repeated numerous times and the book has a rather preachy tone as a result. Don't get me wrong the message is a good one, I just prefer more nuance from my stories.
If you know a kid who enjoys creepy fantasy that is a little dark, but not too dark, this is a quick interesting read.