When this book showed up on the hold shelf, as so often happens for me, I had forgotten how I heard about it and why I’d put it on hold. Once I started reading, though, I was very grateful to past me and whoever recommended it.
Juniper Harvey and the Vanishing Kingdom
by Nina Varela
Little, Brown, 2023
Read from a library copy.
Ebook available from Libby.
Juniper Harvey has just moved from Texas, where she had at least one friend, to Florida, where she has to start middle school knowing no one. It’s a tall order for an introvert, but that’s not what has her most rattled. That’s the dream she’s started having every night, set in an ancient-looking temple where a girl her own age turns to ivory. Juniper can’t stop thinking about and drawing her. After the fall middle school dance her mother forces her to go to ends in horrible embarrassment, Juniper draws a picture of the girl again and wishes she were there…
And the regular middle school story takes a sharp turn towards the fantastic as the girl shows up in Juniper’s room. The girl, Galatea, is single-handedly trying to save her kingdom, a floating island from which pieces are breaking off, before there’s nothing left. She’s hoping that Juniper can help her find their missing goddess. Meanwhile, though Galatea doesn’t know anything about cell phones or cars, she’s good at judging people, and helps Juniper reach out to likely friends at school even as the two girls are growing closer themselves. Juniper’s just starting to think about romance herself, but isn’t sure that a sword-wielding princess like Galatea would ever be interested in her that way.
This was such a good blend of characters, relationships, action and humor! I really appreciated Galatea and Juniper’s slow discovery not only of each other but also of the older relationship between Galatea’s goddess and another one – a moving story as well as a strong demonstration that same-sex love has always been with us. It was a really satisfying read, and I knew that it would be perfect for my daughter. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, she really prefers to stick to audiobooks and graphic novels and this book is sadly not available on audio – but once I made her sit down to read the first five chapters, until Galatea shows up, she finished the rest on her own and wants to make sure it ends up in her school library as well.
This book and my daughter’s request for more queer books for kids her age prompted me to make a list of LGBTQ+ Middle Grade Fantasy books.
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