I'm not sure I would have picked up this book had it not won last year's Newbery Award - not that it doesn't look appealing, but there are so many books on my reading list that I might not have gotten around to it, particularly as it's not in a genre that I typically gravitate to. Knowing beforehand that it won, though, gave me heightened expectations, but I'm glad to say that these were not disappointed. It is a charming novel, with engaging characters, and I particularly enjoyed the effectiveness of the book's structure.
Our heroine is a young girl named Abilene Tucker, who has been traveling from town to town in the company of her father. But suddenly, following an accident that left Abilene in need of serious medical care, her father has decided that life on the road is not a good life for her. He sends her, on her own, to the small town of Manifest, Kansas, to stay with a friend of his. Abilene feels hurt and angry, and worried that her father will never come back to get her.
She is determined to bide her time and keep to herself, but before she knows it she is drawn into life in Manifest. She's given a school assignment to complete over the summer - even though she fully expects (hopes desperately) to be back with her father by then. She hears old stories about life in Manifest when her father was young, and she and some friends are excited to hear about an actual spy known as the Rattler who lived in Manifest during World War I. They decide to investigate and are a little scared (and a little thrilled) to receive an ominous warning telling them to stop nosing around in other people's business. Little by little Abilene learns about the past events of Manifest, and as she comes to know the people who live there now, the past and present weave together in a story that might even show her her own place, right there, and how she's connected to everything else.
The story is told from Abilene's viewpoint, but there are sections told by other characters and through letters as well. The reader is given clues from these stories and can try to unravel the mysteries along with Abilene, and the plot unfolds in bits and pieces that finally arrange themselves to form a large, interconnected picture - it is skillfully done.
I have read here and there that this is the sort of book that adults will enjoy, but young readers not so much; that the structure and point of view are too complicated, and the subject matter too inaccessible. I disagree. First of all, Abilene is an incredibly sympathetic character, and readers will identify with her immediately. She has such an engaging voice, and she tells the story in a way that sucks the reader into the story. And secondly, the story is a mystery, really, and there are so many unanswered questions that surround characters that readers will quickly come to care about, so readers will be eager to see what happens next. Of course this book isn't for everyone - what book is? But for kids who enjoy a rich book about complex people in an unforgettable setting? This one will definitely be a hit.
Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool (Delacorte Press, 2010)
Also reviewed at:
As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves: "I grew to like Abilene more and more throughout the book - her curiosity
and sense of adventure, as well as her willingness to try to make the
best out of a bad situation."
One Librarian's Book Reviews: "The writing is quite beautiful and I was really transported back to the 1930s and to the first great war."
The Literate Mother: "I laughed, cried and hoped through Moon Over Manifest, and I loved every page of it."