Look. I get that being a writer is hard sometimes, and full of bizarre and unusual things that don’t happen to most folks. I’m also aware that it’s a cultural thing to look on writers as being reclusive and “eccentric”, or as if somehow they’re in tune with forces the “regular” folks don’t understand. In fact, I remember when I first started writing that I received many comments like this, usually in the form of jokes. Suddenly I was no longer a normal person, I was a WRITER, and therefore everything I saw and everyone I met was fair game for the typewriter. And, to be fair, it comes with a certain rush. “Everybody had better be nice to me!” I’d quip as I sat down in front of a word processor, ready to begin working on my latest NaNoWriMo entry. “Or else I’ll write you into my book as a corpse!”
Juniper Grace looks and reads a lot like if the age-old advice of “write what you know” were given physical form. It’s pure, fantastic wish-fulfillment from beginning to end. The wish it’s trying to fulfill, however, is basically flawed: Not all writers have the same experiences, and cashing in on the warped and unrealistic expectations we have of (white) female authors–especially ones who write romance and erotica–comes across as weird and uncomfortable. There’s so much about this book that screams “Stereotype!” and “Trope!” and yet it never calls out either of those things. It takes for granted that a young woman who is a financially independent erotica writer is only successful because she’s insecure, clumsy, “pretty but doesn’t know it”, surrounded by brash friends who interfere with her life, and has the hots for a guy she’s too shy to ask out on her own. It also takes for granted that you can only be “perfect” if you’re a “bi-curious” (*spits*), white, blue-eyed, blonde-haired, and have had sex with every man that moves. Sound familiar yet?
And that’s probably this book’s biggest problem: There’s nothing new here. This is ground which is almost as well-tread as the middle-aged white male college professor who can’t stop obsessing over a young, vivacious girl in one of his classes. Juniper Grace uses a lot of words like “rich inner life” but Juniper doesn’t have a rich inner life–she has erotica novels where she self-inserts in order to live out her fantasies of being bodice-ripped. And there’s nothing wrong with this, but there IS something out of place about trying to put this across as some hilarious, lighthearted romp we’re all supposed to identify with. The truth is, Juniper Grace is the kind of fantasy that locks people into pigeonholes without them even realizing it. Furthermore, everyone in this book is painfully shallow, and there just isn’t enough creativity used to make the plot better than stuff I’ve already seen before.
To make matters worse, there’s a truckload of cissexist, misogynistic crap towards these end which is packaged as “humor” but is in truth disgusting and stale. I was actually willing to overlook a lot of the book’s failings until I got to the ending; but do we really need to have almost four pages full of people mocking the shape of a woman’s genitals? (For bonus Awfulness Points, it’s primarily white cis gay men talking about how disgusting vaginas are, because gosh isn’t THAT breaking new ground) No, we don’t. And if your friends talk like that in real life: Get better friends immediately.
Did I mention the heavy purple prose? While amusing, I don’t think it was supposed to be amusing, which is bad. But then again what else I am supposed to do but laugh with phrases like “secret back-passage” and “his nipples could cut glass”? Oh and let’s not forget the name of the book’s main love interest(?), which is “Lord Darkthornton”. Yup.
Again, I would be fine with all of this if the book was honest about being a parody or a spoof. But it’s not. (Or if it is, it does a fantastically poor job of communicating this) It’s trying to peddle these values on its reader(s) and I just can’t get on board with that.
If you hadn’t guessed already, give this one a pass.