Saturday, November 7, 2015

Throwback (re)Read: The Juniper Game

The Juniper Game, Sherryl Jordan
The cover art of this book alone transports me back to my adolescence -- it's an icon of my teenage reading years.  (That, and Christopher Pike's shining, embossed pen name -- HA!).

I recently decided to systematically re-read some of the books that make a great impression on me and my friends as a teen.  I was really interested to see how they stacked up after so many years, and against my adult personality and preferences.

When I traded for a copy of The Juniper Game at my local second-hand bookstore,  it became the first title to revisit.
  • The great news: I loved reading it.  I'm not sure I love it in the same way I did as a young woman, but I certainly enjoyed it still.  I read it all afternoon and finished it that evening, tremendously satisfied.
  • The dialogue is occasionally unlikely (but surprisingly, not too dated!).  It sometimes includes vocabulary, quick-thinking or exposition I simply can't imagine in everyday speech (especially the speech of 14-year-olds)...but as many of you know, I'll take smart unlikely dialogue any day over dull, predictive yet realistic character conversation. 
  • There is warm sensuality between 14-year-old characters and some innuendo.  There is no heavy petting, but enough sensuality (kissing  between teenagers and referencing sex and assault between adults) that more conservative readers may not be enthused.
  • It was hard to read the stereotypes the teenagers thought in...but I imagine it really appeals to a teenager reader feeling labelled.  Calling another character "a nerd" never sits well with me.
  • Some of the scary stuff is my scary stuff -- my personal fears.
  • It is more predictable as an adult, but I imagine as a young reader it comes together in a more striking way.  It is still well-done, even if the mechanics are more obvious to a more experienced reader.
  • There's no swearing.
It is very interesting to me, that as a parent, I was quite shocked by how much of the content I found heavy -- heavier than I'd care for my daughters to read anytime soon (and from a novel published in 1994).  I kept thinking things like, "Um, this is making it sound like it is normal, fun, and okay for 14-year-olds to get drunk with their parents;" "Do 14-year-olds really have this many physical thoughts?!" and "Is it healthy for a young person to read about a parent's infidelity -- especially when a likable character effectively high-fives the parent for 'finding love' outside an unhappy marriage?"  It is a lot for a protective parent to process.  There is some heavy stuff in The Juniper Game!  My answers to all of those questions are pretty complicated now, having finished the book.  I think Jordan makes a point of sharing some of the dark and dreadful territory teens are forced to navigate, but I think it is more tasteful that many titles I've read touching upon the same, in recent years.  References to the worst of things are left vague enough that a super-young reader might miss them completely if he or she wasn't ready to infer what is being implied.  As a parent-reader, I'm sometimes worried about the power of suggestion and the implied morals of the story...yet, as a teenager, those thing didn't worry me at all.  Did I get pregnant as a teenager because I read this book?  No.  Did I ever drink alcohol?  No.  (I know, right?  Hahaha.  I know many of you enjoy your wine etc.  I'm not preaching, I'm making a point here.)  Haki and I have been talking a lot lately about how much we were drawn to the dark, grisly, scary and morbid, as teenagers.  We both remember this fascination we had; we were finally choosing our own texts and engaging with them, and everything wasn't G-rated.  We were still relatively good kids, but we wanted to read about and watch what bad kids did and form opinions about it.  With these memories in mind as a parent, I will have to trust that some heavy content is going to be okay for my kids.  I have to prepare myself for the possibility (nay, likelihood), that they'll seek it out, at some point.  I would rather they figured out the dark parts of this world by engaging with materials and fiction describing it than going dark themselves.  But how dark is too dark?  How much is so much it de-sensitises or awakens curiosity?   All tricky questions.  I think the key for me, overall, is what happens overall to the characters who partake in these things?  If poor choices (by our family's standards) are part of a book or movie, are we shown the consequences of those poor choices?  Therein, is the key, I think.  Does The Juniper Game do that?   Enough.  It isn't my ideal, but I think with a good supporting discussion with my teenage child, I would be happy for her to read this book -- even excited.  I think so long as we discussed our family values alongside what she was reading, I'd be down with it.  But my girls will mostly read faster than I can keep up with alongside my own not all of the books can be like this one.  Not early, anyway.  Later, they'll read whatever they want! 
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