Kate's Reviews > Moon Over Manifest

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
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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 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.
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