Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

This is the winner of the Newbery Medal for 2011 and I am sad to say it took me 5 months after the Newbery announcement to get around to reading it. In my defense, I have had it on hold for quite a while. The real reason I hadn't read it earlier is that my fellow librarians were rather lukewarm about it. Some liked it OK while others found it slow and hard to get through. I therefore, entered into it with some reservation. In the end I was pleasantly surprised. This is a story of a girl, Abilene, who is the daughter of a drifter during the 1930's. Her father decides that she is getting too old to be riding the rails with him, and sends her to live with a preacher in a small town were he spent some of his childhood. He promises to return at the end of the summer, but as the days go by she begins to wonder if he really will return. Desperate to make some connection to him, she begins to look for clues to his childhood in the town. A eccentric Romanian woman begins telling her stories of the past, but never mentions Abilene's father's name. Abilene wonders how her father fits into the complicated past of the small town. As the synopsis suggests, the book is a moody, broody kind of story, but it is sprinkled with funny stories from the town's past, and a little sense of mystery as to what really happened. It reminds me, in a way, of Holes by Louis Sachar, one of my favorite Newbery winners of the last 20 years. Like Holes, this book takes objects, a few keepsakes Abilene finds in her room, weaves stories around them, and then connects those stories into the time line of the present. The thing that makes Holes a more compelling read than this one, is that the "present" day story of Moon Over Manifest, is not nearly as interesting as the "present" day story in Holes. Still, the book, overall is interesting and well crafted, and worth the effort.

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