This is one of those books that I want to pick up and re-read immediately, as I know the reveal at the end will give me a whole new perspective on the...moreThis is one of those books that I want to pick up and re-read immediately, as I know the reveal at the end will give me a whole new perspective on the beginning. I just kept assigning tags to "Moon Over Manifest," as the book encompasses so much - it's like a two-for-one historical novel, with the setting bouncing back and froth between southeast Kansas in 1936 and in 1918. As the 1936 characters try to solve one mystery about the events of 1918, they unravel a town's secrets and learn about the power of stories and the true meaning of home.
In 1936, Abilene, our 12-year-old narrator, has been sent to Manifest, Kansas by her father, Gideon, after a childhood spent as a hobo riding the rails. Vanderpool paints a vivid picture of life during the Great Depression, with empty storefronts and never enough food to go around in the parched Dust Bowl of the Midwest. Abilene tries to learn why Gideon has sent her to Manifest and what the town means to him as she makes friends with two classmates and does some work for the mysterious Gypsy woman, Miss Sadie, who lives on the outskirts of town.
As she works for Miss Sadie, Abilene listens to the older woman's stories about life in 1918. She learns about another wayward stranger who arrived in Manifest after a life of wandering, just like her. This young man, Jinx, quickly becomes friends with high school senior Ned and begins to make himself the first home he has ever known in Manifest. Again, the plentiful historical details give life to the era. Manifest is a mining town with over 20 nationalities represented in the ranks of the mine workers, most of whom have immigrated from Europe, yet anti-immigrant sentiment is running high as World War I continues to sweep local boys off to the trenches. We witness a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan, watch a bootlegger ply his trade, and see the tragic toll of the influenza pandemic.
Abilene attempts to figure out where her father figures into these stories of Ned and Jinx. Why does Manifest mean so much to him that he has chosen to send her here? Just when I thought I had figured it out and was a) surprised that the solution was obvious so early in the book and b) annoyed that Abilene had not figured out the obvious, Abilene revealed that she was thinking along the same lines as I. Intrigued, I continued, only to find that a second mystery had been hiding in the background all along. The resolution of this second mystery added to the compelling and satisfying finale.
There are certainly a few bones to pick with "Moon," such as the "Rattler" spy subplot. I need to go back and re-read Ned's initial letter to Jinx teasing him about figuring out the identity of the spy, because I am thinking/hoping that Abilene misinterpreted it. Ned and Jinx are certainly the last people I would expect to go rooting around for spies during WWI, as they certainly knew how immigrants were unfairly tagged as spies and how the misinformation and propaganda contributed to the kind of anti-immigrant sentiment they despised. I tried not to pick apart a few of Jinx's "cons," as they seemed liable to fall apart at the seams if looked at too closely. And I wondered about how Ned's compass ended up in the hands in which it ended up.
But overall, I think "Moon" is worthy of its Newbery win. There are some passages of lovely writing that seem authentic to Abilene's perspective. The flow of the different formats of writing, from Abilene's present-day narration to Miss Sadie's stories to Hattie Mae's newspaper articles to Ned's letters, carries the story along at a nice clip. The setting is beautifully imagined and realized. No loose ends are left hanging in either of the mysteries, and yet nothing feels artificially resolved. Large themes of home and story are gracefully intertwined in the narrative, and Abilene's growth in her understanding of these themes feels realistic. Secondary characters are well-drawn; I particularly loved Shady and Eudora. I will certainly be booktalking it up and trying to get it into the hands of my upper elementary and middle school students.(less)
**spoiler alert** Almost impossible to categorize. It's like a dystopian historical fantasy, jilted a little off-kilter from actual English history bu...more**spoiler alert** Almost impossible to categorize. It's like a dystopian historical fantasy, jilted a little off-kilter from actual English history but clearly based on prodigious research. Within this deeply imagined and fully realized world we meet Mosca Mye, daughter of the noted (but disgraced) scholar Quillam Mye, whose father instilled in her a voracious appetite for the conjuring power of words before he died and left her in the care of a nasty aunt and uncle. Mosca's ability to read and love of language set her apart; in the Fractured Realm in which she lives, books are blamed for terrible past atrocities and a guild of "Stationers" censors printed material in the name of preventing further tragedy. The resulting fear of books leaves the clever Mosca misunderstood, bored, and restless: "Since the burning of her father's books, Mosca had been starved of words. She had subsisted on workaday terms, snub and flavorless as potatoes" (16). When a poet/con man arrives in town, Mosca is enchanted by the words like "mendacity" and "mellifluous" that pour forth from the verbose stranger, and when he runs afoul of the law, she rescues him on condition of his giving her employment as a secretary. Mosca, her new employer Eponymous Clent, and her goose Saracen therefore find themselves traveling together to the town of Mandelion.
Political intrigue and machinations swirl through Mandelion, and Eponymous and Mosca find themselves caught up in a power struggle between the Stationers' Guild, the Locksmiths' Guild, and the Duke's sister Lady Tamarind. An understanding of the history of political and religious strife within the Fractured Realm is necessary, and I found myself turning back to early explanations from Quillam and Mosca a few times to make sure that I was understanding the older history (the civil war, the parliamentary rule, the "Bad Times" of the Birdcatchers) as Hardinge kept adding information about more recent history (the Book Riots during the Year of the Dead Letter, the internecine quarreling amongst the Guilds). If this all sounds demanding on the reader, it is -- Hardinge has high expectations of you. However, the payoff for immersing yourself in this imagined world is great, since Hardinge also has high expectations of herself and, to my mind, exceeds them with aplomb.
The plot rollicks along through surprising but never eye-rolling twists and turns, the characters stay true to themselves even as they grow in emotional and spiritual maturity, and the language is heady, powerful stuff. Hardinge, who shares Mosca's enchantment with words, is a master craftsman; every detail, every image is evocative and potent. This facility with words is what made me dive directly from "Well Witched" into "Fly by Night," and what will make me head out to the library immediately upon finishing this review to pick up "The Lost Conspiracy" and "Fly Trap." Just flipping through the book, it's easy to find examples of Hardinge's unerring eye for surprising, precise description on every page:
"The wind roared with an estuary freshness. It carried the smell of sand flats and sea poppies, and the pale wails of wading birds, and the clammy, silver-eyed dreams of fish. Although she had never known the coastlands, Mosca felt with a thrill that somewhere beyond the edge of sight the ocean hugged its unthinkable deeps and dragged its tides in shrug after monumental shrug" (104).
"Mosca and Clent were led to an unsmiling little man of fifty with a gnawed, yellow look like an apple core. The little man's mouth was a small, bitter V shape, and seemed designed to say small, bitter things" (133).
"Clent simply swept such memories away, with the impatience of someone shoving crockery aside so that he can spread a treasure map across a table. The facts fell to the floor with a fractured tinkle and were forgotten" (214).
If all this were not enough, Hardinge also manages to make the book an indictment of religious extremism and a call for freedom of the press. As Mosca elucidates some of the hard-won lessons she has learned at the end of the book, I found myself making connections to our own world in the wake of terrorist attacks, with every hour a "Clamoring Hour" of "everybody able to to stand up and shout what they think, all at once" (479). Yes, Clent is right -- that such clamoring creates confusion that can drown out the truth, that not every citizen is willing to do the work to search out the truth amidst all the partisan yelling, and terrible ideas (like "death panels" and distrust of Obama's birth certificate) can spread like wildfire. However, Hardinge's convincing portrayal of a world that disallows such clamor gives me pause in my usual knee-jerk distaste for Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. (And you know a book that can do that is powerful!)
I don't mean to make the book sound moralizing; to my mind, Hardinge avoids black-and-white preachiness, and there is enough boisterous adventure to carry along readers who prefer not to dwell in the the deeper themes. However, I think it is impossible to finish the book without doing a little thinking about what kind of society you would like to live in. And that is a great thing. Hardinge proves herself yet again to be a children's author who refuses to underestimate her audience and is not satisfied with giving them anything less than her best. And her best is better than almost anyone else's I can think of.