Juniper Berry by M.P Kozlowsky is the first in my Kids Lit Comfort series of reviews. Sometimes a reader just needs a break from dark themes or long, prose-heavy works, or, simply, the present reality of life. At times like these, the only logical thing to do is pick up a classic (or contemporary) middle-grade or children’s book and get swept into its comforting story, like sipping a marshmallow-laden hot chocolate and wrapping a deliciously warm, wool blanket around yourself. But don’t let the word “children” fool you — children’s literature touches on universal themes, delving into the joys and throes of human character in an extraordinarily entertaining (albeit shorter) way. Darkly amusing, terrifying, fun, mysterious, curious, or downright delightful, middle grade/kids lit is my antidote for a variety of ailments: sadness, depression, frustration, adult-ness, boredom, the overstressed, the overworked, and more. Though there are less pages and a smaller story, there is always a bigger picture. Less is more, and sentences of alarming alacrity hit you head-on, full-throttle. Children’s Lit is short, small, and packed. with. punch.
And M. P Kozlowsky’s Juniper Berry doesn’t disappoint — it is a fantastic read. The synposis: Juniper Berry’s parents, world-renowned actors/famous celebrities have “not been right lately”. In fact, they have been cold, disinterested and cruel. Obsessed with greedily augmenting their current success, their actions and responses to Juniper become frightening. Her mother calls her “useless” at one point, and begs to know what people are saying about her online.
“Juniper, dear, you go to all these websites, these gossip pages, posting boards. Have they been mentioning me? Where am I going? Where have I been?”
All in all, their behaviour has been shockingly uncharacteristic. Juniper is lonely, sad, and neglected; constantly exploring the woods, she admits that discovery and exploration are her salvation. Juniper and her friend, Giles (whose famous parents also seem to be afflicted with the mean bug), are determined to figure out what is going on. One cold and rainy night, Juniper follows her parents as they sneak out of the house and enter the woods. She and Giles discover a world beneath a mysterious tree, a world which promises all their secret, personal desires — at the price of their souls.
The evil, menacing, and manipulative…thing that rules this other world is eerily enticing, ensuring the children that “there are far easier ways to get to the same places” than hard work. Her parents, and Giles, have fallen into the trap, and the two have to have to save them — but first, decide what the value of their souls are.
Kozlowsky touches on the pathetic nature of celebrity culture, describing the parents’ fans akin to mindless, screeching crows lauding over food scraps, and the parents’ behaviour as terrifyingly self-absorbed. He makes a parody of today’s technology and our fickle fascination with computers and cell phones, portraying it as futile and mind-numbing. And he makes important points about morals, happiness and life throughout — points that are clearly and acutely felt, without feeling preachy.
Finally, the ARTWORK by Erwin Madrid is superb, creepily gorgeous, and haunting. Black and white, long, thin lines, curvy details, and deep shadows combine to give the book just the right flavour of mystery and fun. It’s a wonderful, frightening, and meaningful story, and I urge you all to give it a read!
Some poignant quotes:
“When this theme park ride is over, we’re going to walk out the same doors we walked in. There was no miracle.”
“The imagination of the young is nothing to be dismissed.”
“I have yet to meet a person happy with what they are given.”
“The only truth is the one we create. It’s the rest that is a dream.”