Hello, friends! I’m back with a blog tour review for Juniper Harvey and the Vanishing Kingdom by Nina Varela. Special thanks to the TBR & Beyond Tours team for organising the tour and including me in it!
Thanks to Delacorte Press for providing a digital ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Click here or on the banner above to check out the rest of the fantastic bloggers on tour!
Juniper Harvey and the Vanishing Kingdom
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: 14 February 2023
Genre: Middle-Grade Fantasy
Rep: Queer, Lesbian, Anxiety
A thrilling fantasy adventure from acclaimed author Nina Varela that explores friendship and queer identity, perfect for fans of Amari and the Night Brothers and Rick Riordan’s Trials of Apollo series!
When Juniper Harvey’s family moves to the middle of nowhere in Florida, her entire life is uprooted. As if that’s not bad enough, she keeps having dreams about an ancient-looking temple, a terrifying attack, and a mysterious girl who turns into an ivory statue. One night after a disastrous school dance, Juniper draws a portrait of the girl from her dreams and thinks, I wish you were here. The next morning, she wakes up to find the girl in her room…pointing a sword at her throat!
The unexpected visitor reveals herself as Galatea, a princess from a magical other world. One problem—her crown is missing, and she needs it in order to return home. Now, it’s up to Juniper to help find the crown, all while navigating a helpless crush on her new companion. And things go from bad to worse when a sinister force starts chasing after the crown too.
Packed with adventure and driven by a pitch-perfect voice, this middle grade debut from Nina Varela is about one tween forging new friendships, fighting nightmarish monsters, and importantly, figuring out who she is and who she ultimately wishes to be.
⚠️ CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNINGS
Violence (involving swords), blood, physical combat; brief mentions of animal suffering; discussions of anxiety, panic attacks
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Note: The quotes below are taken from an advanced copy and are subject to change in the final version.
TL;DR: Juniper Harvey was such a treat to read and while I think it’s perfect for all ages, I think it’s especially perfect for middle-grade readers who love magic, adventure, myth, and good friends. The story starts off a little slowly as we get to learn about June but it doesn’t take long for the action to start and it continues all the way to the end! I really enjoyed the unravelling of the mystery and the truth behind the dreams, the magic, and of course, the friendships that were made along the way. I would also recommend this to anyone who’s interested in stories about powerful and vengeful gods!
“My mom believes in omens big-time. Once, she had a dream that she got in a car crash, and she got into a fender bender the very next day. Considering my dreams involve a brutal stabbing, I’ve been a little worried.”
This was a pretty fast-paced middle-grade fantasy. It’s well-written and engaging and Varela did a great job of capturing the youthful voices of her characters. They were each distinct in their own way and they were all very pre-teeny (not at all in a negative way)! The descriptions of all the settings were also done well—from the small-town vibes and the marshlands of Cypress, Florida, to the floating islands in the magical world where gods and magical creatures such as dragons and dream shadows, and magic existed, it was all fairly easy to visualize as I was reading. It added to the adventurous and whimsical feeling of the story as we encounter several magic-created fantastical creatures.
“It’s not wrong to want something different. You’re not doing anything wrong, okay? I mean, so far, you’ve done everything right. You’ve done everything you could.”
“My head goes quiet. I stop crying. But I am so lonely it aches. It feels like hunger. It hollows me, like scraping the guts out of a pumpkin.”
This had a mix of plot and character driving the story but it’s definitely more plot-driven. That said, Juniper Harvey was such a great character and the story being told through her tween voice was perfect! She’s such a wonderfully likeable character who’s easy to root for, is relatable, and who’s simply a good kid doing her best in handling new situations. Having been in her shoes a time or five in my adolescence, I know exactly how it feels to be the painfully shy and awkward new kid who isn’t good at putting herself out there and making new friends. I think anyone who has been that kid can relate to her! That said, I loved her passion for art and how she made webcomics—she really came alive as she talked about different forms of art and the way she’d get lost in her head while creating. I also liked the queer rep through June’s character, it felt like such a natural part of her character and I loved the small moment when her mum gave her support. I actually liked the way Varela added this very realistic middle-school moment of experiencing those first awkward crushes, being filled with the wonder of the person you like standing next to you and wondering whether that person likes you too—it definitely brought me back to those days of awkward middle-school dances and watching from the sidelines as everyone scrambles to pair up. It was funny! 😂
“I think sometimes it doesn’t matter how much you water the soil. Still nothing grows.”
“That look was the absolute truth. I know it the way you know things sometimes, bone-deep as loneliness, right in the living room of the heart.”
Despite a rough beginning for June, she does eventually make friends and I liked how those friendships developed with Galatea, Sam and Ollie. As June gets to know all three a bit more, you can see her slowly stepping out of her shy shell, becoming more comfortable being herself in front of them and not constantly worrying that she’ll say something embarrassing that’ll scare them away. Of the three, Galatea had the most character development because of course, the story is also about her and what’s happening to her magical island. That being said, I do still have a lot of questions particularly related to her parents and her role as princess of the island. Sadly, Sam and Ollie were underdeveloped characters and I definitely would’ve liked to see much more to them, especially since they also played a part in solving the mystery. I do hope that they get more page time in the sequel—which I hope will happen after that cliffhanger ending—because I liked what their characters brought to the story but also how they brought June so seamlessly into their fold! I’ll also say this does suffer very slightly from absent parent syndrome although June’s parents do have a bit more of a role in the beginning and that tapers off the further into the story we get. I would’ve liked to see more of them though because they were very supportive of June and I really liked what we saw of the trio’s dynamic!
“I think of how I’d draw this moment, how I’d capture it: hot color and swirling light, the crowd’s hands waving like sea creatures in a current, the floor tilted at a dizzy angle. The shape of our bodies, whole and lopsided and sliding together like puzzle pieces. For the first time in my life, I feel like a perfect fit.”
Aside from the character development, I think the story would’ve benefitted from stronger world-building, although perhaps as an older fantasy reader, I’m much pickier than a younger audience would be. Still, I think there could’ve been a better explanation of how the magic actually works, why it worked in this particular town in Florida and with June, and how the whole travelling between magical worlds thing worked. As it was, it was all very vague or entirely unexplained and it felt very convenient (like, it worked because it worked). It obviously didn’t put me off reading because I sped through this in little less than a day because it moved at a fast pace and it was so easy to read, but I hope that these elements will get more of an explanation in the sequel cos I’m looking forward to reading it!
Nina Varela was born in New Orleans and raised in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent most of her childhood running around in the woods. These days, Nina lives in Los Angeles with her tiny, ill-behaved dog. She writes stories about queer kids, magic, and the magic of queer kids.
Have you read Juniper Harvey and the Vanishing Kingdom or is it on your TBR?
4 thoughts on “Blog Tour Review: Juniper Harvey and the Vanishing Kingdom by Nina Varela”
This sounds like one my daughter would have loved when she was into middle grade books.
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It was really cute and a great way to get back into reading this past week! 😂
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OK BUT LESBIAN MIDDLE GRADE FANTASY WHERE HAVE BOOKS LIKE THIS BEEN MY WHOLE ENTIRE LIFE?? look we NEVER see enough queer characters in MG fiction SO I HONESTLY WOULD HAVE READ THIS EVEN IF YOU HAD HATED THIS BUT IM SO GLAD IT WAS AMAZING!!!! Look characters speaking about something they love and the book involving that IS ALWAYS SO AMAZING TO READ ABOUT AND DID I MENTION JUNIPER SOUNDS AMAZING?? I can’t wait to read this AND SHALL ALSO BE FOREVER GRATEFUL TO YOU FOR INTRODUCING ME TO IT THANK YOU SO MUCH YOUR REVIEWS ARE FABULOUSNESS.
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