Juniper Berry by M.P. Kozlowsky (2011)

Juniper Berry’s parents have been acting very strange lately.  The days when they all used to make pizzas together or put on one of Juniper’s plays are just a memory that grows more and more distant each day.  It seems as though the more famous they become (her parents are movie stars), the less interest they have in Juniper. 

Without friends or her parents, Juniper spends one lonely day after another pacing her gargantuan mansion and its expansive grounds with her dog, Kitty.  One day, she meets a boy named Giles in the woods.  Another loner who is picked on at school, Giles confides in Juniper that his parents have also not been themselves recently.  The two team up to try to discover what is turning their parents into creepy, ghoulish remnants of their former selves. 

A spooky tree that leads to a secret, underground world leads Juniper and Giles to Skeksyl:

He was extremely tall, taller than any man Juniper had ever seen.  In fact, almost everything about him had length.  Each body part extended:  long legs, long arms, long neck, long fingers.  He was enveloped in a ratty hooded cloak, his elongated face concealed in shadow…He was a gangly creature, and would have seemed to the point of breaking if it were not for how he slithered about , his limbs like anacondas in their movement. (p. 103)

His all-knowing manner at once frightens and intrigues the children and the temptation to fall prey to his promises (much like their parents did) is strong.  Will Juniper and Giles be able to resist long enough to uncover the truth before it’s too late?

An attractive cover will definitely draw kids to this book and I think they will enjoy the fantasy/mystery thrown in, despite the fact that I was put off a bit by the slow pacing.  It reminded me of Coraline by Neil Gaiman, in that there is an alternate universe where you get what you think you want, only to discover it’s not what you wanted at all.

This is an ARC slated for release in April 2011.

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