Oldie but Goodie: Juniper

6 Mar

Juniper, Monica Furlong

Title: Juniper

Author: Monica Furlong

Publisher: Scholastic

Date: September 8th 1992

Pages:  208 pages

Genre: Young Adult, Legends and Myths, Fantasy, Girlhood, Fantasy, Magic

ISBN: 0679833692

Publisher Description:

Though Juniper enjoys the easy life of a medieval princess, she chooses to learn about herbs, healing, and the magic within nature from her strange and difficult godmother. As her training comes to an end, Juniper discovers that her power-hungry aunt is using black magic to seize the throne. Juniper must use her as-yet-untested powers to stop her–before the kingdom is destroyed!


Book Trailer: none

Cover and Title Critique: I love this cover! It reminds me of an illuminated manuscript for some reason. When I was younger I used to look at this cover and  imagine myself wearing Juniper’s cloak and training to be a doran (witch, wise woman, take your pleasure with word that makes you comfortable). The wall with the angry dogs alone makes this cover a WIN!


So…I should start off saying that Juniper is the prequel to:

Wise Child, Monica Furlong

Publisher Description:

Abandoned by both her parents, nine-year-old Wise Child goes to live with the witch woman Juniper, who begins to train her in the ways of herbs and magic.


and it was followed by this book:

Colman, Monica Furlong

Publisher Description:

Set in very early Christian times, Colman is a spellbinding fantasy of a faraway age, when the mystical and the commonplace walked hand in hand. The healer, Juniper, and her apprentice, Wise Child, are accused of witchcraft and forced to flee their small town. Wise Child’s devoted cousin, Colman, escapes with them. This is his story of their arrival to the land of Juniper’s birth, where she is, in fact, a princess.


The reason I have decided to title the review Juniper is because I read them in this particular order when I was younger and have continued to like reading them in the Juniper, Wise Child, and Colman order ever since. Do as you like– but I LIKE IT THIS WAY (but seriously…you could read it Wise Child, Juniper, Colman. I would not be offended). Juniper is the prequel (written after Wise Child) so it would not spoil anything for you. I just happened to stumble on it first and that is how I came to fall in love with Furlong’s trilogy and her wonderful characters.

Fantasy is a genre you either love or hate– I have yet to meet anyone who is very lukewarm about fantasy. Either you sing praises or you wish it would burn in the fires of Mordor (you see what I did there??). I was on the hate side when I was a tween until I read Juniper. She was my gateway drug for bigger and better things. She is a dangerous gateway drug– have some!

Juniper is a young princess in kingdom caught in the crossfire of the old religion and the new religion. When she loses everything at the birth of her male brother (everything = the kingdom), it is suggested she leave her home to study “the old ways” with the Godmother she has never met.  Juniper’s entire world is turned upside down as she faces a new life path she had never anticipated.

Furlong not only writes a fantasy novel, but a wonderful girlhood novel (and who doesn’t love a girlhood novel–Anne Shirley and Meg March anyone?) — taking you on a coming of age story that leaves you falling in love with a Juniper and Euny, her prickly but lovable Godmother. Her training to be a doran is wonderfully told through the eyes of a girl who is both enchanted by her new, if somewhat unorthodox, reality but also longing for the privileged life she has left behind (I mean…she is a princess…I am glad she realistically misses things…I would miss things). Juniper is a complex character–sometimes a small child unfairly caught in a feudal war between kingdoms, at times a powerful doran showing wisdom well beyond her years….but underneath it all she is just a girl looking for her place in a kingdom that cast her out because she was…gasp…a girl.

Rabbit says: Grades 6-8 (and beyond!)

Interest Level: Grade 6 – Grade 8

Grade Level Equivalent: 5.5

Lexile® measure: 640L

Guided Reading: NR

Look….this will please a 6th grader (and it is an appropriate read, both in reading level and content), but it will also please any fantasy reader out there–or any reader period. If it was at your bookstore, it could easily sit right next to Game of Thrones or The Mists of Avalon. It is just THAT good. Wise Child and Coleman are as well. In regards to maturity level, there is nothing truly controversial in these books other than some mild religious dialogue–more on that below.

Caterpillar says: Bless me father, or mother…

So…what constitutes religious dialogue?

The setting for Furlong’s trilogy is at the birth of Christianity–a wonderful setting for the fantasy genre. The tension between the old religions (those who worshiped the Goddess) and the new religion has always been present in fantasy that chooses this time period. Juniper is no different, but it is not overt. I did not even realize it when I read it as a tween. It is much more obvious in Wise Child (there is that overarching plot story of a priest vs. Juniper) but in Juniper– it is much more subtle. There is a statue of the Goddess that Euny offers alms to, but Juniper also witnesses monks putting flowers at her feet as well. The deep religious commentary here is killing me. Furlong is having a conversation about the Goddess and the old religions, but it is not obnoxious– I find it refreshing and beautiful and wonderful and so. many. things.

Also interesting and good to see: There is quite a healthy discussion about good magic vs. bad magic in Juniper. Much like J.K. Rowling’s distinction between Dark Arts and the magic practiced by everyone else (I will never pass up a chance to talk about my Potter), Furlong’s world has very clear distinctions between the magic or power of a “white” or good doran and a dark witch or sorceress (bad doran). Right and wrong is not left in a world of grey here. It is clearly defined, again and again, in Furlong’s world. There will be no young reader wanting to choose the wrong side…or confusing good magic for the bad.

So…is Furlong, a feminist and theologian herself who wrote on Saint lives, commenting on the identity of the Virgin or the Goddess or both? Is Juniper a feminist novel?

Furlong, a lifelong advocate for women’s ordination, only wrote one children’s series. Even her obituary failed to mention this series. It was not a crucial part of her work. She was a journalist, reporter, and non-fiction writer. Can her passion for women’s issues, but also for the Church (she wrote on Terese of Lisieux and Thomas Merton), be seen in Juniper’s journey?

How do you feel about the scene where both the old religion and the new meet at the statue of the “woman”?

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