Brave in the Woods

Putnam. Jan. 2021. 256p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781984813992.
Gr 5-8–All her life, Juniper has been told by her grandmother that her family is descended from the Brothers Grimm. Unfortunately for her family, they were also supposedly cursed by a witch to constantly relive the tales that they stole. When her brother Connor goes missing during his military tour of Afghanistan, Juni thinks it must be the curse rearing its head again. She begins receiving signs that must mean Connor is still alive, though her parents have given up hope. Believing that she is running out of time, Juni decides that she must embark on a quest to somehow break the spell put on her family centuries ago. If she succeeds, Connor will be found and finally come home. Juniper convinces her friends Malcolm and Gabby, as well as Connor’s best friend, Luca, to help her to retrieve Elsie, Connor’s golden retriever service partner from the home where she was sent after Connor’s disappearance. This is a beautiful tale of love and grief, friendship and family, and of hope. The tale of Juni’s life and the quest she undertakes for her brother unfolds like a fairy tale. With each new layer of the story and character introduced, readers understand a little more about what drives Juniper, why she feels like she owes her life to her brother, and why she refuses to give up on him. Give this to readers who loved Ali Benjamin’s The Thing About Jellyfish and Kate Allen’s The Line Tender.
VERDICT Holczer’s use of humor, thoughtful imagery, and magical realism elements makes this a wholly unique blend of modern fairy tale, hero’s quest, and coming-of-age story. A suggested purchase for all middle grade collections.

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