Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool is the 2011 Newbery Medalist and it does not disappoint. While I'm not sure it's a book that would hold the attention of most children in its target age range, it's a book I greatly enjoyed. Here's the CIP summary from inside the book:
Twelve-year-old Abilene Tucker is the daughter of a drifter who, in the summer of 1936, sends her to stay with an old friend in Manifest, Kansas, where he grew up, and where she hopes to find out some things about his past.
That one sentence summary covers the plot, more or less, but it by necessity leaves out what makes this book engrossing: mysteries in spades, compelling characterization, and lots of heart. In Manifest, Abilene Tucker stays with a preacher/bartender (yeah, you read that right) named Shady, and under a floorboard in her room she finds a box. Inside it is a small collection of treasures: various trinkets, a map, and some letters. She thinks that this must surely be a link, somehow, to her father, Gideon, and what unfolds is an at times convoluted, but very compelling series of flashbacks (told by a would-be fortune-teller, Miss Sadie, who is much better at telling the past than the future) and "flashforwards" to the present. These episodes are punctuated by related editorials from the town newspaper, a device that I found somewhat annoying at times because it interrupted the flow of the story. Both the past story and the present story are set in Manifest, and they're connected, somehow. The past story is about a young man, Ned Gillen, who befriends a boy named Jinx who shows up in town, obviously running from something or somone. Ned and Jinx get into all kinds of mischief (some of it righteous mischief) and manage to become heroes. Abilene hears Miss Sadie's stories as she works off a debt she owes the "diviner" (in a sort of Jem/Miss Dubose relationship like in To Kill a Mockingbird), and as she does, she gets closer and closer to her father and his story. I'll admit I had some reservations while reading this book about some of the characters. Take Miss Sadie, for example. She's a fortune teller? A diviner? I'm not sure that's something I want my upper elementary aged student (if I had one) reading about. Then there's Shady, the bartender/preacher. Sure, he's a remarkable fellow, both kind and principled, but I can't quite figure out how to even get a handle on a bar that doubles as a church. (Yes, I know it's being done nowadays, but I don't quite know what I think about it.) Too, there's a bit more about bootlegging in the story than I feel comfortable with. By the end of the novel, though, I was mostly satisifed by Vanderpool's resolution of these various issues, to the point that I would have virtually no hesitation in giving this novel to a sixth grader. I think it would take a strong reader who really enjoys historical fiction to persevere through its 350 pages, though. I really like this book, but I'm not sure I think it's better than Turtle in Paradise (linked to my review), which won a Newbery honor for 2010. I think Moon Over Manifest is a much more complicated story, with all kinds of plot twists and many, many seemingly disparate threads to be tied up in the end, but Turtle in Paradise is much more polished. Interestingly, both are set during the Great Depression. An expanded version of this review was previously published at my blog, Hope Is the Word.

6 comments:

Sandy D. said...

Your reviews make me want to read this more than "Moon Over Manifest". :-)

I read "Waterless Mountain" (1932 Newbery winner) recently, and it is pretty much all place and no character or plot.

But some of my favorite books set in a distinctive place are Richard Peck's "A Long Way from Chicago" and "A Year Down Yonder". Probably because I grew up in a small town in IL that is very much like Grandma Dowdel's town.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

Yes, I've been reading lots of books lately with a pervasive sense if place. I enjoy them a lot. I've been thinking about a blog post about this very thing.

Sandy D. said...

oops, I meant to leave that comment on the "Turtle in Paradise" review at your blog!

I think that "sense of place" must be very important to the Newbery committees, since it comes through so clearly in so many of the winners and honors books. I look forward to reading your post on it.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

No problem! I figured it out! :-)

Amanda (the librarian) said...

Glad to see a review of this year's winner! I'll probably listen to this once I buy the audiobook for my library's collection. I did listen to Turtle in Paradise (link to my review) and really enjoyed it; I felt it was written in a style that would appeal to kids around Turtle's age (11). It will be interesting to see how Moon Over Manifest compares; it sounds interesting to me!

Amanda Jillian said...

I've awarded you the Versatile Blogger Award! Check out my post on what to do now: http://livingafaerietale.blogspot.com/2011/04/versatile-blogger-award.html