Thoughts on Moon Over Manifest

2011 Newbery Winner
Summary: 
Abilene Tucker is left by her father in the town of Manifest with no knowledge of if or when he will return to her.  Abilene begins what will be her summer mission: finding clues of her father’s past in the small town of Manifest. 


Merits of Moon Over Manifest
I agree with School Library Journal that “history and fiction marry beautifully” and that the story’s plots are “artfully intertwined.”  Similarly stated, the BCCB wrote that the book was “ingeniously plotted and gracefully told.”  The melding of two different time periods through multiple medias while maintaining flow and clarity is one of the standout features of this novel.  Two years, 1918 and 1936, are woven together to create one cohesive plot strand.  Abilene Tucker hears the story of Ned and Jinx through a variety of modes.  She learns their story through Miss Sadie’s flashbacks, Hattie Mae’s News Auxiliary’s, and Ned’s letters.  The book’s presentation contributed to the clarity of these story forms.  Different fonts and page layouts aided the reader in their comprehension.  To use so many forms and still keep the story organized and clear was quite impressive.
I also agree with Booklist that the story had “believable dialogue, vocabulary and imagery appropriate to time and place.”  Historical novels present quite a challenge.  Authors must spend a significant amount of time doing research, but then it is up to the author in how that research is used to its best advantage in the story.  Vanderpool used many key details from the time period for both accuracy and plot development.  Small details such as food (Shady’s burnt biscuits or Lettie’s ginger snaps) helped create an authentic historical environment, while researched details such as Spanish influenza and immigration provided inspiration for key plot points.
I agree with Kirkus Reviews that the novel had a “deeply gratifying ending.”  I’ll admit that I found this book slow moving at first, but there were so many threads and unsolved mysteries that the reader had to keep moving towards a hopefully gratifying ending.  The revealing of both Gideon’s identity and Gideon’s motive for leaving Abilene really framed the whole story nicely.  Miss Sadie’s story was equally moving and paired well with Gideon’s past, strengthening themes of the power of a parent’s love and the pain of separation.  The interconnectedness of all the plots and subplots left the reader feeling immensely satisfied.
I also believe that one of the major merits of this book was stated by Publishers Weekly: “insight into family and community.”  We witnessed firsthand the sadness that comes from a family’s separation through Gideon/Abilene, but we also witnessed the sadness that comes from a community that has fallen apart.  Manifest had lost its vibrancy and life, but we witness a rebirth as Abilene fosters communication and hope in the community.  This is a unique theme that empowers children by showing them the role they can have in their own community.  This theme was also echoed in Jinx’s story when he is able to save the community through his con tricks.  I loved this message of empowering children in their communities and that even children can make a difference.
Things I Wasn’t so “Over the Moon” About:
One issue that was never resolved is the issue of Abilene’s mother.  Supposedly she is in hiding, but her identity or reason for disappearance is never resolved.  At one point in the story, I thought that Gideon’s reason for leaving was to find Abilene’s mother because Gideon realized that Abilene was becoming a young lady and would need her mother.  But perhaps Gideon didn’t want Abilene along for the journey in case the mother wasn’t “alright.”
The large cast of secondary characters were a challenge to keep straight despite the nifty cast of characters in the book’s beginning.  While Vanderpool’s motivation was probably to create a true community within her text and to show the passing of generations, I wonder if some weeding would have been beneficiary.  I was taken out of the story due to confusion over a character on more than one occasion.
P.S.
I heard Clare Vanderpool speak at the 2011 Gaithersburg Book Festival  🙂
I hadn’t read the book at the time, so I don’t remember much in the way of plot details.  But she spoke about how the Newbery had changed her life, the impact on her family, how her kids had been supportive, how she had the opportunity to travel, and what it was like to get “the call.”
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