“Juniper Leaves” is ultimately a remarkable story that will inspire other young Black women to discover their magic and become something great.
Coined by Auntie Peebz, the phrase “Black girls are magic” has become one of the most empowering phrases in recent years. While it is typically evoked to celebrate the small and big accomplishments of Black girls and women, some Black creatives have embodied this phrase by making Black girls who are literally magic. The newest example of this is the young adult book “Juniper Leaves” by writer and humorist Jaz Joyner.
Titled as “Juniper Leaves: The Otherworldly Tale of a Lonesome Magical Girl“, the book tells the story of a 15-year-old Black girl named Juniper Bray. After her grandmother dies, Juniper Bray goes to a farm for her father’s research trip. There, she discovers a portal that leads to a magical destiny involving another world named Cantatis.
One of the most notable things about this book is how unabashedly Black and queer it is. The author is a Black non-binary trans guy and Juniper, the main protagonist of their book, is Black and queer. Not only does this make Juniper authentic, but she and her creator provide a voice for Black queer people who can seem rare in speculative fiction.
While Juniper Bray is awkward and introverted, she is also very comfortable with her Blackness and queerness. Juniper’s complexity manifests itself through her internal dialogue, which serves as the narrator for the story.
One particularly amusing train of thought goes, “While my dad would be out discovering cures, I’d be farming. Last time I checked, Black families working in fields for free was a little something I’d like to call slavery. I straight up wrote a PowerPoint to my parents titled, “Slavery Happened, Let’s Not Forget That”.
Another way that this book features Blackness and queerness is through its secondary characters. Out of all the characters, Bree Mckinney stands out the most. Bree is a loud, street smart, and rebellious Black teen that ends up becoming Juniper’s play cousin and joining her magical adventure. Bree’s boisterous personality drives Bree to become bolder as a heroine and everyday teen, resulting in good and disastrous events that are a part of Juniper’s coming of age.
Other interesting secondary characters include Juniper’s androgynous Japanese female love interest Sen, the genderless species called Beyans, and Bree and Juniper’s family. Bree’s family will be especially recognizable to anyone with Black families, from the annoying nosy kid sibling to that older family member who can throw down in the kitchen.
Rounding all this out is the magic of the alternate world of Cantatis. In this world, Juniper and Bree are trained by the fairy Harmonia and the Beyan warrior Aggro to save the world. While some of the world building could’ve been more consistent and some of the magic could’ve been less cheesy, the action and adventure Juniper and Bree experience makes up for the lack of polish.
By believing in the magic she possesses, Juniper Bray becomes a courageous heroine and young woman. Like the plant she is named for, Juniper gradually grows into something that honors her roots with her grandmother while branching out as her own person. While it has its flaws, “Juniper Leaves” is ultimately a remarkable story that will inspire other young Black women to discover their magic and become something great.
Featured Image: Cover art for “Juniper Leaves” by Michael Bennett & Jalisa Joyner.