INTERMEDIATE FICTION

Brave in the Woods

(2) 4-6 Extreme luck--good and bad--runs in twelve-year-old Juniper Creedy's family thanks to a witch's curse placed on their ancestors, the Brothers Grimm. For example, three miracles saved Juni when she was born, but she suffers from debilitating asthma. And now her older brother, Connor, a soldier, has been declared missing in Afghanistan. While her parents and grandmother mourn, Juni holds out hope he'll return. She convinces Connor's best friend (and two of her own) to join her on an end-of-summer road trip to retrieve Connor's retired service dog. Juni believes that doing so, along with casting a magic spell and sacrificing something cherished, will help break the curse and, she hopes, miraculously bring Connor home. Holczer (The Secret Hum of a Daisy, rev. 7/14; Everything Else in the Universe, rev. 7/18) has crafted another heartrending story of familial loss, grief, and healing. Though the family's connection to the Grimms serves mainly as a convenient plot device, Juni does love fairy tales and storytelling, the latter woven into the narrative through memories of her brother and her grandmother's life story, which help tie the more magical aspects of this otherwise realistic novel together. The imagery-rich text ("Lately Juni felt like she was a horse with blinders and on the other side of those blinders were the right words to describe what was happening inside her") also places symbolic importance on deer, bees, and trees, enhancing the natural-world connection. Well-developed secondary characters help readers better understand Juni and the relationships she cherishes, while supporting her journey toward accepting the truth and finally letting go.

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