Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary, Pamela Dean

I do not appreciate casual slaps at the South for being racist.  I do not mind delineations of particular racist things the South has done and continues to do (that’s fair, although I don’t know why the North always gets such a pass), but I just can’t stand this unsupported assumption that the South is full of people ten times more racist than the rest of the country.  So I didn’t like it in this book when the Mysterious (read: deeply aggravating and nobody in her right mind would ever bother with him) Boy Next Door, Dominic, says a few racist things to Gentian and her friends, and then says he’s from “south of here,” and Gentian thinks, I’ll just bet.  Since they’re in Minnesota, everything is south of there, but they of course assume that he’s from The South.

However, I didn’t like Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary even without that.  In Tam Lin, I was willing to be entertained by the vagaries of college life in between waiting for the plot to show up, and I didn’t mind so much that the plot points were few and far between.  In Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary, I was bored by the plot points as much as the not-plot parts.  The omphaloskepsis (yeah, I went there) of Gentian and her friends was enough to drive me crazy all by itself.  I couldn’t summon up any interest in Dominic.  It’s not that I couldn’t believe any fourteen-year-old would be interested in him, it’s just that I was so bored by him myself that I didn’t want to read anything else about him.  These things, combined with the skimpy plot, have put me off Pamela Dean.

Things to consider: I am rereading Strong Poison now, having thought about it so much while reading The Case of Madeleine Smith that I realized I couldn’t live without it much longer, and I find Harriet and Peter much more tolerable than Pamela Dean’s characters.  Why?  They quote things at each other all the time too.  Do you ever find yourself aggravated by something in one book and thrilled by it in another?  Is it just the way the author presents it?  I feel very muddled about this.

  • Hm. It sounds disappointing. I really enjoyed Tam Lin, and then struggled to read Fire and Hemlock, which took me three tries to get into but then I liked it much. Haven’t read any others but got this one on my list. After your review, I’m rethinking it, though.

  • jennysbooks

    So far, Fire and Hemlock is way the best adaptation of Tam Lin I’ve read, and although I feel like Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin is sort of snotty and elitist (I hate it how they sneer at Christina for not recognizing the passages of Shakespeare they quote), I thought it was a cool, interesting adaptation of the ballad.

    But there’s just no excuse for how unpleasant everyone was in Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary. If you do read it, tell me what you think – I’m afraid I may have been too hard on all the characters. 🙂

  • Wow, I flubbed up there. For some reason I was thinking Dean wrote them both- but Fire Hemlock was Dianna Wynne Jones! Now I’m trying to think if I’ve read any other Pamela Dean and I think the answer is no.

  • jennysbooks

    I tried one called The Secret Country and couldn’t get on with it at all. Ordinarily I love books where a set of children find a secret country, but I put this one down after about forty pages.

  • Schatzi

    I wanted to like this book a lot because I just love Tam Lin, but it did nothing for me.

    • Have you read anything else by her? I tried reading The Secret Country right after I read Tam Lin, thinking, hey, no way to lose here, it’s by the same author who wrote that book I couldn’t put down, plus it sounds just like Narnia!, and I didn’t even get a quarter of the way through. After trying Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary, I came to the conclusion that Pamela Dean is a one-hit wonder. Oh well, I’ll always have Tam Lin.

  • Schatzi

    I’m another of those who started The Secret Country and put it down. It’s so sad to think of Dean as a one-trick pony; perhaps I should try again.

    • Maybe I’ll try again with it, too. I think I paperbackswapped my copy away, so it more or less depends on me finding it cheap at a used bookstore…

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  • trapunto

    I was just about to recommend this book to someone I think might like it, and was googling to see if any bloggers had read it. We had such a different take on this. I saw all the annoying parts (cringed at your mention of wholesale dismissal of the South as racist, which makes me want to appologize for being a yank!), but I thought the rest of it was brilliantly layered. I thought it was even better than Tam Linn.

    Dominic is boring, but I think he’s supposed to be because he’s just a symbol. Yeah, I wanted a book with a cute mysterious boy who got revealed, but I was kind of impressed by Dean’s toughness in insisting on not giving me what I wanted and writing a book that turned out to be JUST about the girls. Dominic’s ultimate boringness was meant to say something about the opposite-sex ideals created by sex-and-imagination-crazed adolescent psychology, that eventually get exploded by real exposure to other members of the opposite sex. Also he wasn’t he meant to be the devil?

    • Was he meant to be the devil? I was out of sorts with this book from the get-go, and I may not have been giving it my undivided attention, I’m afraid. I remember feeling like it was shades of Diana Wynne Jones’s The Time of the Ghost, which also features a creepy dude in whom a group of sisters is interested, and at the time I didn’t like TTotG, so that didn’t make me love Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary any better.