How I would rate it: 4 out of 5 stars.
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.
Review: I have always been a fan of stories about children having to somehow get back the magic of childhood that somehow they’ve lost as their parents drift further away from each other and from them. In Juniper Berry, Kozlowsky takes that notion and really explores what it would be like to deal with that while hoping against hope that there’s some darker force at work to explain what happened. Although his explanation is, of course, really strange and creepy, there’s a lot going on for Juniper and her friend Giles that is incredibly believable and emotionally driven.
Juniper and Giles were excellent main characters. There were a few sentences here and there that seemed phrased rather awkwardly, but over all Juniper’s struggle to find herself and reclaim her parents was throughily engaging. Similarly, I really wish there were more illustations from Erwin Madrid because those were amazing, but I didn’t have any trouble picturing the dark world lurking inside of one spooky tree and the way in which the bad guy was able to convince people to part with pieces of themselves to achieve whatever impossible or difficult dreams they might have.
I have to admit I personally didn’t think the messages in this book were too heavy-handed, but I also didn’t think they needed to be directly stated at the end of the book. Over all, I can’t see the harm in reading a book that is trying to highlight the importance of inner strength and working for the dreams and goals you wish to have. I love that the book shows the dangers of assuming greatness or success hinges on how much you’re willing to give up on who you really are.
If I did have one complaint though, it would be the issue I always have with books like this and that is that the parents get let off the hook very easily. I really, really have issues with the idea that it would somehow be more acceptable to have subjected children to traumatic indifference for years on end if some evil tree-dwelling bad guy was involved. In the end, the book moves right on to a happy ending and doesn’t really address the fact that the parents made the conscious decision to alienate and emotionally abandon their eleven-year-old daughter in order to further their careers. Or that they chose to do so over and over again, which is an even creepier element of the book than the tree-dwelling bad guy.
In conclusion, this book was really, really good and definitely one that will haunt me for awhile. And not just because of the balloons. If you enjoyed Coraline by Neil Gaiman even a little bit, you ought to read this book.