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Raven Stole the Moon by Garth Stein
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Mar 11, 2010

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bookshelves: 2010
Read in March, 2010

Garth Stein is known for the popular book The Art of Racing in the Rain, which at one point last year, was even being sold at Starbucks. Though I thought the dog was adorable and the minimalist cover appealing, I avoid books with animals as a major theme (the endings almost always end up being sad).

Raven Stole the Moon is a complete departure from the premise of The Art of Racing in the Rain. The story begins in Seattle with a troubled couple, Jenna and her husband, getting ready to go to a party. All the while, Jenna spends her time thinking about how one can drown himself. Wouldn’t your body fight it? Wouldn’t you float upward? Slowly, we learn that she and her husband lost their son Bobby in Alaska – that he disappeared and was thought to have drowned.

At first, the story reminded me very much of Glen Duncan’s Death of an Ordinary Man. Jenna’s reaction to her son’s death and her marriage very much followed what Duncan portrayed in his novel. Their marriage had mostly deteriorated and each found their own way of coping with it – without relying on each other. Despite the harsh topic, Stein impressed with his very likeable characters. Though I was reminded of Death of an Ordinary Man, it is important to note that Stein’s characters are more real, more raw than Duncan’s. Something about Jenna makes me feel like I would be her friend were she a real person. In very subtle ways, through gestures and phrases, the characters become people we would be glad to know in real life.

What brought the story to life for me was the strong focus on Alaska and Tlingit culture. After the party, we see Jenna pick up and leave to Alaska on a whim – to go to the place where she lost her son (and coincidentally, where her Tlingit grandmother lived). The information we learn through Jenna’s case about the Tlingit society and their mythology and folklore alone makes the novel worth reading.

Stein’s ability to seamlessly weave this historical content into Jenna’s story was downright impressive. It never felt like he was reaching or forcing the story through. As someone particularly uneducated about Native American tribes of the United States, it felt like I took in valuable information (and accurate information).

Knowing that the author had ties to the Tlingit culture, being 50% Tlingit himself through his grandmother only made me appreciate this aspect of the book even more. It is apparent that the story within Raven Stole the Moon means a lot to Stein.
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