Welcome to another edition of Sharing Our Snacks, in which Rebecca and I each recommend YA brain food that they think the other would enjoy crunching and munching! Since I live in Pittsburgh and R lives in Philadelphia, we can no longer share an enormous middle-of-the-night bag of potato chips and tin of onion dip from Turkey Hill like we used to, so we had to find another way to share. You can recommend books to us, too—contact us!
Dylan, totally ready to find himself
Juniper, naively quirky
Marsha, don’t call her Mom
Niall, a “gypsy”
Johanna, free spirit
What a feeling it is to find someone who “gets” you! Especially when you’re a shy boy and she’s a beautiful, independent girl, and especially when it involves something as exciting as time travel. That is, until things stop being polite… and start getting real.
Gorgeous, socially savvy, vivacious and Medieval-things obsessed Juniper needs a partner-in-crime to go further in her explorations of psychic phenomena. Conveniently, there’s a new boy in school, Dylan Pidgely, who is a talented artist and on the same wavelength as Juniper. Now, if only everyone would stop worrying about their intense connection with each other and the 15th century that makes them ignore homework, disapproving boyfriends, babysitting duties and imploding families for days at a time! Uh-oh – did that lady from the past actually see them?
Rebecca recommended this book to me because
“it’s a YA book that has quite a different backdrop than others of its sort, and I think you’ll appreciate the way a lot of ‘real-life issues’ are touched on subtly, even though they’re not the main story. More than that, though, this book (for me, and keep in mind that I first read it as a kid) captures the kind of potentially self-destructive obsession with a quest for fantasy or a life you think should be yours that I think might mean something to you. I’m not sure if you’ll love Juniper or hate her, but I can totally picture you dating a younger gypsy man with a caravan when you’re like 40.”
Ha! Thanks, Rebecca. I look forward to my Cougar Caravan phase of life. (I somewhat unwisely just googled “cougar caravan” and the 2nd image result was the teaser poster for Sex and the City 2.)
I was pretty psyched to read a young adult book from 1991. Like watching movies from the 80s or 70s, there’s just no faking the atmosphere of something created in a different cultural milieu–not just the fashions or the slang, but the whole product ends up being slightly “other” – familiar, but distant. For example, I don’t think that a novel today would use the modifier “huskily” for someone’s dialogue.
I’ve noticed that the characters in YA books from, say, before Y2K have a higher level of honesty when talking to each other. There’s just generally less secret-holding as a plot point. Parents and kids talk about their feelings more with each other. For instance, Juniper’s mom calls Juniper out on some of the shitty ways she treats Dylan, and Dylan, on his end, has several talks with his dad about his parents’ still-new separation. I’m sure there are many contemporary examples you could throw at me, and please do, but I also think that it was more of a thing for kids and adults to try to be real with each other and talk things over in books coming out of the 70s and through the 90s.
And, as R. mentioned, this book has a different take on its supranatural events. I hope it goes without saying that I’m a huge fan of contemporary YA novels and genre books, but many of the paranormal romance books have settled into a pattern, and books written before that genre-pattern was set in place that deal with similar issues are that much more exciting to read.
Not only does this book not offer a traditional power-reveal or love triangle, it also deals with time travel in a way that I haven’t seen or read about before (for extensive coverage of this, I recommend reading the timeslip reviews at Charlotte’s Library). What starts as simple ESP exercises turns into meditative traveling to time, because everything is NOW and nothing is past and present. This was satisfyingly mystical and yet grounded in… hippie theories? What Freud called airy-fairy stuff? It had more of a background than most stories, but less than Michael Crichton’s Timeline, I guess is what I’m saying.
Although my synopsis was tongue-in-cheek, I really did enjoy reading The Juniper Game. For the reasons mentioned above, and because it really captures some key things about growing up: the levels of friendship that fluctuate between people, the manic episodes of laughter between friends, the regret for being blind to your parents being real people, the anger at your parents for not seeing you as a person. At the same time it fulfills teenage fantasies — parents indulgently allowing drinking and a medieval-times-obsessed girl who sleeps in a bedroom with a straw covered floor and is super-popular at school and not socially awkward.
One very important element of the story is finding a world where you fit. Dylan is an awkward kid to begin with and you can tell that he loves his family but they’re kind of boring to him. He’s waiting to find a place to be himself, so he can finally be himself. And then Juniper shows up. She lives in a house that sounds like a modern architect reinvented the log cabin with her mom, who she refers to as “Marsha”. Marsha dates a back-to-the woods guy named Niall. (He lives in the aforementioned gypsy caravan). They kiss each other and talk about making love in front of the kids. There’s a meditation room in the house, and Juniper basically gets to indulge her obsessions however she’d like, which lets her be a truly creative and self-directed young lady and also oblivious as to when she’s being selfish.
But the thing is, Dylan doesn’t care that Juniper sometimes sounds impatient with him, or doesn’t acknowledge their friendship at school, or the fact that she has more fun with Dylan than with her suave but short-tempered boyfriend, Kingsley. He’s found somewhere to geek out, somewhere to be comfortable. He’s found his cool friend - this is a term my friend Liz introduced me to in high school. She insisted that I was her cool friend – the friend she was excited to introduce her other friends to because it made her look better — but I was equally convinced that she was mine. But there’s a darker interpretation. The cool friend is also the friend you might let walk all over you a little bit, because you’re a little insecure of your place in the relationship, because although you have fun with them, you don’t feel as cool as the cool friend. So as I was reading The Juniper Game, that experience really rang true to me.
I also think it was successful as a portrayal of the dangers of the mystic. When things get hairy near the end of the book, the terror is real, and it’s powered by the fear of the unknown. Dylan and Juniper have messed with uncharted territory, so when they are pulled deeper into the adventure than anticipated, it’s really scary. I felt like anything could happen. Even though I was pretty sure that things would turn out okay.
The Books of Fell by M.E. Kerr - for a similar classic-era YA style and another unattainable girl.
Things Change by Patrick Jones - A very realistic treatment of obsession between two people and the rotten things that can emerge from it.
The Brood by David Cronenberg - What happens when you mess with forces beyond your control through experimental anger therapy
Espers – this Philadelphia band would probably be the ideal soundtrack for medieval time travel
disclosure / digression
1. Rebecca – I couldn’t help but imagine you reading this as a teen and wanting to be Juniper, and it was great.
2. Sometimes books put me in mind of the music that should be their representative, apart from Espers, Belly is the band for The Juniper Tree, specifically the song “Dancing Gold” from the Baby Silvertooth EP.
3. But the other song that was constantly in my head while I was reading this was an old folk song called either The Juniper Tree or Old Sister Phoebe, sung very nicely by the Seegers on American Folk Songs for Children. You can check out the description and lyrics here, and I’ll just note that their interpretation of why it’s a juniper tree gives me an interesting interpretation of why Marsha may have named her daughter Juniper.