“Letters to Juniper” is a gripping story about life inside a Separatist compound during an FBI standoff, from 12-year-old Sarah Smith’s perspective.
Sarah Smith doesn’t remember much about her early years. She knows her mother died when she was six, and her father moved her and her younger brother to Northern Idaho. Once there, her life changed drastically. The only vivid memory she has of her early childhood is time spent with 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 in under the rigid oppression of her father and stepmother, who call themselves Separatists. Their lives are turned upside down by an FBI investigation of her father’s association with members of the Aryan Nation. When he refuses to be arrested on an illegal weapons charge, a standoff occurs. As the tension and violence escalate, Sarah faces life and death decisions in order to survive.
WHAT I THOUGHT
I didn’t see that coming is what I thought!
“Letters to Juniper” is Sarah Smith’s story as told via her letters to a long ago best friend named Juniper. Poor Sarah has to endure life as a recluse because this is what her father has decided. I cannot imagine being away from everyone in what seems to be the middle of nowhere where your father and stepmother are the people who tell you how things are and how they are meant to be. Sarah only knows what she sees and what she is told by those who shelter her from the big wide world. She doesn’t know that her father and stepmother are mad and delusional, she doesn’t know the way they behave would be considered wrong and unacceptable by most people who do not live within the compound.
I really felt sorry for the children. Not only for the immediate storyline but thinking beyond that, the repercussions this kind of seclusion can have on children. Of course if they stay in the compound for the rest of their lives they won’t know any different but if a child were to leave the compound I can’t help thinking how he/she would find the world outside. I imagine it would be quite daunting and he/she probably wouldn’t know how to act appropriately around people. It’s a scary thought.
Getting back to Sarah though I felt sadness for her and her lost memories. Sarah’s few memories of her past give her something to cling to and Juniper gives her someone she can confide in. I imagine Sarah might feel she doesn’t have much of a voice around the household hence the decision to start writing to Juniper and free her thoughts and feelings. Sarah doesn’t remember a lot from her past but what she does remember she holds on to – the rest of her life back then before the death of her mother and the move to the compound seems so long ago and so distant it’s hard to believe it occurred. Life is normal as far as Sarah is concerned, although I beg to differ. I think it’s absurd that your daughter has to be locked up in a shed and not allowed to come out while she is menstruating. Who made up that rule?!
These emotions I felt whilst reading, and feeling now as I am typing up this review, show that Peggy Tibbetts is a good writer, one who is able to convey the emotions of a 12-year-old girl and also cause the reader to feel emotions about the deeper issues, i.e. separatism. I believe this could be a good book to read for English in the early years of high school, perhaps even late years of primary school. There are quite a few topics to discuss and I think the discussion would be enriched by having school-aged participants. It would be great to hear different opinions. As an adult I felt mad at the parents. I wonder if children would feel the same way or if their main concern would be something else? Interesting.
All in all, I loved the way this story was presented in the form of letters, it gave it a personal touch. I felt like I was getting to know Sarah on a personal level, that I knew what she was thinking and how she was really feeling. Oh, and I loved the ending!
Many thanks to Peggy Tibbetts for providing me with a copy of ‘Letters to Juniper’ – thanks, Peggy!
Check out Peggy’s author profile by clicking here