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Juno of Taris, Fleur Beale

May 11, 2011

Juno of Taris Book blurb

 ‘Don’t give up.  Don’t let them kill your spirit.  Things will change.  You need to be strong.  You need to be ready.  And you will need courage.’
Juno is young; she has no authority, no power, and to question the ways of Taris is discouraged.  She knows what it’s like when the community withdraws from her – turning their backs and not speaking to her until she complies.
The Taris Project was the brainchild of a desperate twenty-first-century world, a community designed to survive even if the rest of humanity perished.  An isolated, storm-buffeted island in the Southern Ocean was given a protective dome and its own balmy climate.  And now Juno is one of 500 people who live there – but what has happened to the outside world in the years since Taris was established?  The island has not been in contact with Outside since the early years of its existence.
Juno yearns to know about life Outside, just as she yearns to be allowed to grow hair.  It is a rule on Taris that all must have their heads shaved bare.  But is it a rule that could be broken?  Danger awaits any who suggest it.

Juno of Taris First Page

On Taris, we shave our heads.
No. That’s wrong.  On Taris, we have our heads shaved for us.
It’s to remind us who we are.  It’s to keep us all the same.  It’s to take away the need to spend time on our appearance, so that we can concentrate on our survival.  So they say.  But when I ask how growing our hair would endanger our survival, people turn away from me. It’s called withdrawing.
So here we are, all five hundred of us, our heads shaved bald every week by a gentle old man called Nixie.  We wear tunics of unbleached linen and we concentrate on our task of keeping our island home functioning.
To be fair, we need to work hard at surviving.  Taris is the brainchild of a desperate twenty-first….” (p11)
(continues, p12):
“…century world.  Somebody had a bright idea: take an island in the world’s wildest, coldest ocean, sling an artificial dome around it, give it its own balmy climate, plant it with tropical plants, stock its sea with fish, and dump a few fowl, goats and rabbits on it.  Add a bunch of carefully chosen people.”

You can read all of the first chapter online – just visit Random House’s Juno of Taris page.

NOTE: There is also a plot summary of Juno of Taris at the beginning of Fierce September, the second book in the series.

Themes in the novel:


The publisher also comments that:

“Juno of Taris examines many themes: peer pressure, environmental breakdown, the fictionalization of history, societal control and challenging authority but perhaps most of all, it is a thoroughly good read from one of our very best writers for young adults.”

Possible directions for study/questions to apply to Juno of Taris

Community is at the heart of this novel. Before the narrative action is really even entered into, we participate in a whole range of communal rituals (wedding; death; funeral; school; communal meetings; conception of a new baby).  In order to understand the events of this novel, and the ideas that simmer underneath those events, I think it is important to consider the nature of this community – and the nature of community in general…

Communication is also central to the workings of this novel – and of this community… To analyse this text, I think it is important to note instances and types of communication; to note the power that surrounds each communication (sometimes communication is not permitted; sometimes it influences a given character; controlling communication is also one of the sources of power employed by the Companions…)….

In what ways, for example, does the reader use different modes of communication to maintain his/her community? How susceptible to interference/external control are these modes of communication?

Questions to Consider (to be continued!!!):

  • What role does each character play in this story?  How does each character help the story along? How does each character support Juno or provide antagonism…?
  • Are the different strata (age groups in the novel) characterised differently as groups?  Do the roles  each character plays form a pattern of some sort according to age?
  • My sense, before submitting the novel to a critical re-read, is that:  the grandparents’ generation are more powerful, knowledgeable (!) and influential (over events in the novel) than the parents…  (at times, Juno’s grandparents’ generation even seem prophetic…)… the younger, questioning generation also seem to be more powerful than their parents’ generation… the parental characters never seem to move the plot along at all (this generation are not actants)… why is that?
  • Also, the Governance Companions appear to be childless (something that even becomes a motivation in the plot towards the end).  The Companions are controlling (even cruel and perhaps a bit ‘evil’) and quite different to Juno’s grandparents.  The Companions are both biologically isolated from the community (because they haven’t contributed to the genepool) and also isolated in terms of communal spirit (they seem to lack the loving, caring, concern for others that characterises a strong community)… It‘s almost as if the villains in this novel are childless because they are villains… I was wondering if this was coincidental, then Fisa became less ambiguous (it became clearer that she was a hero, not a villain); she was redeemed at the end of the novel… and at the same time, she turned out to be Juno’s biological mother…  I haven’t thought this through (and I’m not convinced it’s significant), but it did strike me that there is something childless that unites the villains in this novel…
  • However, on this biological note, there is a strong belief that ‘character traits are genetic‘ in this novel (I’m not saying this is what the author believes!!!).  It’s a major part of the selection process when choosing a new baby… I personally believe in nurture not nature, so I think this novel invites that debate!
  • Juno is the narrator.  Why? How does this shape the reader’s experience? What if Vima were to tell it – or Juno’s grandmother, Grif – or another child from Juno’s stratum
  • The ‘why’ of Juno’s story is made somewhat explicit at the end of the novel, when she writes: “I am Juno, daughter of Taris.  I have a story to tell.  It is of the last days of Taris, and of what went before.  I tell it to honour those who created Taris, those who worked to keep it viable, and those who strove so hard to keep the dream of it alive.  I tell it to remember and to understand.” (p360).  However, wondering about the ‘purpose’ of this story opens up more questions about the power of storytelling (a theme in this novel)…
  • How does a concern with ‘story’ (or information/communication/discussion, etc.) fuel the plot?
  • On the last page, the last of the three ‘pieces of gossip’ is: “Have you heard? Leebar says there’ll be news crews on the ship.  She says Outside will want to hear our stories.”  This connects to Juno’s final comment, but it also raises the spectre of sensationalist journalism… how does our fear of (and fascination with) the potential exposure of our own – and others’ – ‘private’ lives influence our reading of this text? (Consider this question in terms of ‘the freedom to tell a story’ and ‘the freedom to discuss ideas/stories openly’ vs. ‘the right to privacy’)?  I am thinking, right now, of the recent royal wedding, which is saturated with a very strong awareness of the media’s invasive role in Prince William’s mother’s life (Lady Di)…
  • How many ways are stories told/not told/kept secret on Taris? Is the reader privy to the secrets? (I think not – mostly the reader accompanies Juno and is made only privy to what Juno knows/discovers)
  • The reason Taris exists is because of an apparent international breakdown in society.  If one considers the tensions in a local context against larger transnational processes, do we start to see the text differently? What is Taris without the Outside?
  • In an interview with BookieMonster, Fleur Beale is asked what her favourite aspect of writing for teens and children is.  She answers:  “I think it’s good to have a framework within which to write, something that puts limits on characters that they have to push against or learn to live with. When you’re writing for kids and teens, those limits are the rules of the adult world and society in general. With teens too it’s always interesting to write about characters finding out who they are and what they’re made of.”  What are the limits placed on Juno? 
  • In this same interview, Beale states: “what I do is put characters into situations that interest me, and with the Juno books it was putting them into a world which can no longer live with the type of consumer economies we have now.” What does she mean? Assess the text against this premise…
  • Again, drawing on this interview… What are some of the ‘what if’ scenarios in this novel?  How are they explored? What conclusions do they reach? Compare and contrast with other texts…
To be cont…

Texts that invite comparison

Genesis, by Bernard Beckett (in terms of the power of story telling).  You could add his novel, August, into this comparison for good measure!!!

The Crossing, by Mandy Hager and Genesis, by Bernard Beckett  (in terms of exploring authoritarian environments through ‘the eyes of’ individualist adolescent protagonists – and also using the geopolitical isolation of an island to achieve this!)

On a similar note, Matched by Ally Condie; Wither, by Lauren DeStefano (in terms of the individual adolescent against authoritarianism within and over the community. These two novels also compare easily in terms of biology, sexuality and power and who has control over adolescent bodies and their reproductive potential – not to mention the process of aging – does Juno’s story engage with this too?).

The Giver, by Lois Lowry (in terms of both the role of story in community construction and authoritarian environments again – but also of dysfunctional utopias – (?) dystopias perceived to be utopias by a majority of the community). It might be worth looking at the role of memory in each of these communities… as well as what makes the protagonist ‘different’ and ‘special’ in each of these novels… and the role of siblings and people who provide the protagonist with important emotional support within a community… How is shame used as a form of control and power in these communities? How is naming used by the authors to set these communities apart from our own – what effect do naming practices have on the reader’s experience of the text; on their emotional connection with it?

Actually, on that note, the publishers of my copy of The Giver (HarperCollins 2008) suggest “that those interested in books that raise questions about society” (end of book) try Number the Stars by Lois Lowry – or Journey to Jo’burg by Beverley Naidoo (or, for older readers, Nineteen Eighty-four and Animal Farm by George Orwell – or Lord of the Flies by William Golding), each of which could prove a productive direction to take…

I’ll keep coming back to this as I think relevant thoughts… 

Meanwhile check out the books listed under the blog Genesis, Bernard Beckett or on

How to use this blog

Mindmaps help me think critically.  They help me see the links between things and plot a course through all the observations and questions that a text provokes when I read it ‘as a text.’  This blog is a mindmap of sorts; full of random thoughts and relevant-seeming quotations or ideas.

  • There is a tag cloud to the right of the blog, which shows the topics I am exploring as ‘tags.’
  • You can also use the search bar at the bottom of the page to see if a particular word/book/author/theme is mentioned.
  • Each time I bring an author into the discussion for the first time, I add an “Introducing the author” blog. This is easily found at the beginning of the section under that author.
  • I have a section titled ‘Blog Notes’ in which I explain my blogging style.
  • I have a ‘Literary Resources’ section which includes general ideas on literature and its study as well as the questions I apply to any text I study.
  • These questions (eg. Character Questions) may be useful to any other reader wishing to look at this text differently (refer to very early on in the blogging history of this section).
  • I absolutely welcome discussion: comments, suggestions, ideas, criticisms… please do!

Beale’s Juno of Taris: a History

Awards won:

Shortlisted for the 2009 NZ Post Children’s Book Awards Young Adult category.

Winner of The Esther Glen Award, 2009

Publishing History:

Originally published by Random House NZ, Juno of Taris is the first in a series and continued by Fierce September.  It is available as an e-book (epub and kindle)

Bibliography of secondary literature:

Author information:

Refer earlier blog: “Introducing Fleur Beale”  

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