Title: Letters to Juniper
Author: Peggy Tibbitts
Twelve-year old Sarah Smith remembers when she was six years old her mother died and she moved to northern Idaho with her brother and father. Their lives changed drastically. The only vivid memory she has of her early childhood is her best friend Juniper Holland. In her letters to Juniper, Sarah reveals her innermost thoughts and feelings about her reclusive life with three younger brothers under the rigid oppression of her father and stepmother who call themselves Separatists. Their lives are turned upside down by an FBI investigation into her father’s association with members of the Aryan Nation. As the tension and violence escalate, Sarah faces life and death decisions in order to survive.
The topic of this book is not one you typically see for middle grade books, but that only added to my interest in the book. I grew up when things like Ruby Ridge and Wacco happened, so the idea of a book written from the perspective of a child within the walls was one I wanted to read.
The book is written in a series of letters from the main character Sarah to a friend she remembers from when she was six and living in Florida – before she started living with her father deep within the wood isolated from much of the world. These letters, from the start, were over-layed with a thin veil of sadness. Sarah never said she was sad or lonely or longed completely for her old life, but you could feel it in her words. You could tell she loved her dad and her brother, but did she love the life they lived – that was the question I wanted answered. The style of writing was really easy to read. I moved through the book very quickly. Because it’s in the voice of a 12 year old girl it keeps some of what could be deep (like her father’s beliefs) from becoming too much. Sarah’s voice is well done and easy to “listen” to.
Reading from an adult I felt so bad for some of the things Sarah had to go through. Her father had some different ideas about what was sinful and not, and that really affected how Sarah had to live. She had to hid her letters to Juniper because he saw them as sinful mainly because if referred back to Florida where Sarah lived with her mother. Her father said over and over that Florida was a place of sin. How hard for Sarah! This was a place she remembered filled with happiness. She struggles with how to put those two thing together. She loves her father and wants to believe in him, but yet it seems off what he’s saying.
Speaking of her father – the story focuses around her father’s illegal gun selling and how the feds have put our a warrant out for his arrest. Of course because of his beliefs he refuses. A group called The Order is involved in his defense as well. But throughout it all it’s hard to decide who to trust or not. I think that mirrored Sarah’s life. Because of her father’s beliefs it was hard to figure out who to trust. She knew she should trust The Order, but she’s hearing things that make that confusing. That confusing kept a lot of the tension in the story because you always felt a little on edge – uncertain. Plus, I didn’t like her father, and I didn’t trust him so all this tension built around the whole situation.
The ending – I was shocked at how it all ended. Lots I didn’t expect. It isn’t the easiest ending, and because of it I would be a little careful what students I recommend the book to. I think some kids might not be able to deal with it as well. It’s a realistic ending, but difficult. I liked it and felt it fit though – although I would’ve liked more reaction out of Sarah. My only thought was that she was in shock and couldn’t react stronger.
Final though: Tough subject handled well.
Best stick-with-you image: The Birthing Shed. That whole part was hard for me.
Best for reader who: are MG but more mature
Best for ages: 11+
For the Boys? I’d like to say yes, but the book deals with some “girl” issues that boys but not feel comfortable about.