YA Review: Saint Juniper's Folly

Three teenagers work together to solve the mystery of a haunted house in Alex Crespo's chillingly atmospheric yet heartfelt YA horror/romance debut, Saint Juniper's Folly.

Saint Juniper is a "postcard-perfect" small town in Vermont, bordered by Saint Juniper's Folly, "a massive, yawning valley" with woods that are rumored to be haunted. Seventeen-year-old Theo, who has hair "the color of butterscotch" and "pale blue-green" eyes, feels stifled by life in Saint Juniper, where "the most interesting thing... was that nothing interesting ever happened at all." While attempting to take a driving shortcut through the valley, Theo hears a scream. He follows the sound and finds an olive-skinned boy named Jaime trapped inside an abandoned house. Jaime is a foster kid who fled his latest home only to become imprisoned in a house haunted by a malevolent spirit. Theo and Jaime form a tentative friendship, and Theo promises to help Jaime escape.

Theo seeks assistance from Taylor, "a true-blue ancestral witch" who "draw[s] energy from nature to connect with spirits, living or dead." Taylor believes that Saint Juniper's Folly holds answers about the mysterious death of her mother, also a witch. She agrees to help Theo and Jaime, even though it means breaking her father's rules, specifically no "practicing magic on my own" and "stay away from Saint Juniper's Folly." The three of them gradually unravel the mysteries of the house's history and realize that the key to stopping the haunting may lie in their own painful pasts.

The vividly drawn features of Saint Juniper's Folly create a suspenseful, unsettling atmosphere--in the woods "every shifting leaf and creaking branch scraped like nails against a chalkboard" and "the looming pines seemed to grow taller the farther we walked." The chills and frights are interspersed with moments of levity and warmth, such as Theo and Jaime's flirtatious bickering or Taylor and Jaime's burgeoning friendship, as they bond over being Latino in a predominantly white town.

Crespo uses the conventions of a ghost story to explore the impact of generational trauma on families and communities, with protagonists who are haunted by the shortcomings of adults: Theo struggles to live up to the expectations of his image-obsessed parents; Taylor clashes with her "traditional Boricua dad"; Jaime blames himself for his parents' abandonment. Theo, Taylor, and Jaime cannot undo their parents' decisions, but they can address the harms of the past and create a better future for themselves. --Alanna Felton, freelance reviewer

Shelf Talker: A group of teens attempts to decipher the mystery behind a haunted house in this horror-tinged, yet hopeful YA mystery.

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