Hi everyone! I hope you’re having a great Memorial Day weekend. I’m relaxing and nesting and, of course, reading a lot. Again, I find myself several books behind on reviews. Trying to finish out May by catching up. Here we go!
Today I am excited to share some thoughts on a recent book club read: The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. I was excited when our book club picked this because it’s different than what we usually read. We should read more great children’s fiction, especially Newbery Honor books! This novel won the Newbery Medal last year, 2016, and I think it was very well deserved. I am excited to see where our discussion takes us when we meet next week.
- Finally! A book that I can say I loved! I feel like the books I read right before this one were underwhelming or perhaps my expectations were too high. This book delivered. I love a good fantasy novel and this one belongs on a list with Harry Potter, Fablehaven, The Hobbit, and all the other greats. I would love to own it!
- I enjoyed the way Barnhill switched between the characters’ points of view so we could understand situations from different perspectives. I think this also had me turning the pages faster as we jumped from Luna and Xan in their swamp home to the Protectorate and back again.
- This novel was longer than I expected (almost 400 pages) but it has a great pace and I read it fairly quickly.
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill is a beautifully woven fantasy story. Goodreads summarizes: “Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. . . . But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. . . . Xan rescues the abandoned children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.
One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule–but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her–even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.”
The characters in this novel are rich, endearing, and surprising–both the good and the evil. I started writing several paragraphs about specific characters–Xan, Luna, Glerk, Antain, the Head Sister–in this book before realizing I wanted to write about them all! The great strength of this novel comes from the characters. I enjoyed learning about their personalities, seeing them grow and change, and wondering how their paths would cross. It’s easy to cheer on Luna in her quest to understand magic and save the family that she knows. It’s more complicated to understand the Protectorate and the cast of characters there. And it’s intriguing and exciting to watch each character’s journey through the story.
My favorite element of the novel is the engaging plot with clever storytelling and great plot twists. This is a great story. We are thrust into the action from the first page and it continues throughout the novel. The plot twists were well written as they weren’t super obvious at first. But you can start to put the pieces together if you are paying attention. I like that the twists are more subtle. I was surprised that the first part of the novel goes a lot more slowly than the very action packed ending. We get a ton of details about much shorter periods of time towards the end. But again, especially as a children’s novel, I think the action is brilliant.
This book is definitely a children’s novel and yet not a typical children’s novel. The descriptions of certain scenes or details of action are often simple or underdeveloped. Sometimes I wanted more background or explanation, especially in connection with Xan’s history or the volcano. But I would say as a children’s novel, the explanation and descriptions are enough to understand the story and keep the action a the forefront of the novel. However, there are also elements of this novel that make it more mature than the average children’s novel–darker and more complex. The fact that the Protectorate sacrifices a baby to die every year and all the corruption that we learn about in that society are rather dark.
Additionally, the themes and lessons within the novel are rather mature at times. There is a beautiful theme about the importance and sorrow associated with memory throughout the novel that I particularly loved. Also loved Glerk’s constant flow of poetry and philosophy about the Bog. Other great themes and lessons of love, courage, family, and standing up for what’s right were easy to see throughout the novel. What I love about great fantasy literature like this is the way it can teach us about love and goodness and strength within an equally great story. This novel does that. We get both great themes and great storytelling.
So many great quotes in this novel! I really enjoyed Barnhill’s style and poignancy. A few favorites here:
“There is magic in starlight, of course. This is well know. . . . It is enough to bless, but not to enmagic. Moonlight, however. That is a different story. Moonlight is magic.”
“Memory was a slippery thing — slick moss on an unstable slope — and it was ever so easy to lose one’s footing and fall.”
“A story can tell the truth, she knew, but a story can also lie. Stories can bend and twist and obfuscate. Controlling stories is power indeed.”
“There is no limit to what the heart can carry.”
“When you apologize, however, you may begin healing yourself. It is not for us. It is for you.”
The Girl Who Drank the Moon, pages 25, 56, 309, 364, 376
I was satisfied with the ending of this novel. While more details would have been fun to read about, it was getting towards 400 pages so wrapping it up was also appreciated. I especially like the ending for Xan.
Overall, a great fantasy novel for children and adults alike. I think there is a great balance between childlike storytelling and more complex themes. The characters will be loved by everyone. I highly recommend this one!
What are some of your favorite Newbery Honor books?