Friday, August 17, 2007
Walk Two Moons (1995)
I didn’t realize until I’d finished the audiobook that I was listening to an abridged edition of Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons. Considering that Creech interweaves three stories in one – that of Sal, of her best friend Phoebe, and of Sal’s cross-country trip with her grandparents to find Sal’s mother, the abridgement made the storylines easier to follow. However, the abridgement also left out some details that hinted at the ending, and thus heightened the suspense of the novel for me.
According to Creech’s Newbery acceptance speech, the book’s title comes from an American Indian proverb, “Don't judge a man until you've walked two moons in his moccasins,” that she received in a fortune cookie about four years before finishing the book. The proverb plays a part in the story as well.
The main character, Salamanca Tree Hiddle, or Sal, is a 13-year-old of Native American heritage (her name is the name of a tribe), as is her missing mother (and Creech). Sal and her father move from Kentucky to Ohio shortly after her mother’s disappearance, where Sal meets Phoebe, whose mother also disappears temporarily. If this isn’t enough missing mothers, Sal’s budding love interest, Ben, also has a mom who’s gone. By the end of the book, you find out why they’re gone and what happened to each of them.
Sal’s (and her mother’s) and Phoebe’s stories are told in flashback, within the framework of the trip Sal takes with her paternal grandparents from Ohio to Lewiston, Idaho, where Sal’s mother was heading. Along the way, Sal tells her grandparents Phoebe’s story, and through it, begins to understand her own.
The six-day trip traces Sal’s mother’s route and takes them many places I’ve been – Chicago and Lake Michigan, Madison and the Wisconsin Dells, Minnesota, the Badlands and Black Hills and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, Yellowstone and Old Faithful in Wyoming, Montana, and Lewiston. According to the Newbery acceptance speech, the trip also mirrors one Creech took with her parents when she was 12.
The characters are funny and fully-realized – especially the grandparents, whose love for each other is palpable. Their dialogue in particular is down-home (Gramps calls Gram his “gooseberry” and both call Sal their “chick-a-biddy”). In narrating the audiobook, actress Mary Stuart Masterson did a marvelous job with this as well as with portraying Phoebe’s prissiness, Sal’s sometimes-typical-teen reactions, the anguish of both girls, and the eccentricities of other characters.
[edited to add an interesting tidbit - The Finney family as well as some of Phoebe and Sal's classmates come from Creech's 1990 book, Absolutely Normal Chaos, which is built around the journal assignment that also appears in Walk Two Moons.]
This book was written at a 5th-6th grade reading level and is mainly recommended for grades 6-12, although some reviewers suggest ages as young as 8. I think it is more suited for at least age 10 and up, because all of the major characters are 13 and older, and because of the complexity of the multilayered plots. There is plenty of action to hold a reader’s interest, however, and the book deals with poignant themes of loss and acceptance. I found this book to be both expressive and gripping, and I believe it is a Newbery winner that will appeal to adults and older children.