A few weeks ago I put out the call on Twitter for young adult and middle grade books with very strong fantasy settings, as I'd been challenged with the setting on one of my current WIPs. I was fortunate to hear back from enough kind people to assemble a reading list of seven or eight titles, which I promptly put on hold at the library. I was familiar with some titles already (Princess Academy, which I was more than happy to reread), and introduced to others for the first time (Darkbeast, which is waiting on my nightstand as I type), but there was one that caught my eye particularly: Juniper, a middle grade novel by Monica Furlong.
First published in the early 1990s, Juniper has the hallmarks of many children's fantasy novels published around that time - there is a distinct good matched against a distinct evil, a straightforward plot with few detours, a certain clarity of focus leading to a conclusion that many readers of more recent fantasy may see as predictable. Indeed, when I got the suggestion on Twitter, I didn't remember much one way or the other about the book. I remembered reading it more than once, but it had never become one of my constants in the same way Ella Enchanted did, for example. But I didn't mind picking it back up again, especially in the context of research.
And (to get to the point), I was so glad that I did. Yes, the plot is straightforward. Yes, the court politics run on a fairly standard king system. Yes, it's good versus evil. But there is a certain quality to the prose that I can't describe other than to say that it gets under your skin and lingers - that below the straightforward surface there is a layer of complexity that I appreciate more today than I perhaps realized as a child. (This effect is much like the character Euny in that regard...) When I got to the end I was so engaged that I wished for an author's note shedding light on parts of the story. Rereading Juniper was a deliciously enjoyable experience, so much so that when I finished I immediately jumped online to see whether it was still in print (and whether I could recommend it to the new fantasy readers I encounter every day on the job).
Sadly, the answer was (not so surprisingly) no. In fact, it seems like new copies of Juniper are pretty rare these days. Powell's doesn't have any, and the cheapest I saw new copies going for on a certain large online retailer was close to $60. Ultimately, this journey made me SO grateful for the public library system, upon which I cannot heap enough praise. Can't find Juniper online at a reasonable price? The library has it for free! And I just put the sequel, Wise Child, on hold today.
I don't have any life lessons with which to end this post, other than a) sometimes rereading childhood favorites can reap great rewards (although sometimes they're better left in the past), and b) libraries rock. Also, if you're a children's fantasy kind of person, you could do worse than checking out Juniper if you're looking for something short to break up your TBR list.