[Moon Over Manifest]: A Review

Happy Monday, everyone!

It’s a rainy day in Texas today, and we are loving it! We are going on vacation soon and my goal is to be caught up on reviews. While this is a bit of a stretch, I think I can do it.

Today I am reviewing Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool. This is part of my Newbery Challenge to read all the Newbery Medal winners.

Initial Thoughts:

  • The Newbery Award is so well deserved here. This is a rich novel of both complexity and simplicity. The storytelling is just gorgeous.
  • I am impressed by the history and research that must have gone into the writing of this novel. There are so many specific historical details and references to real places and people. Incredibly well done!
  • If I taught this book in a class, I would discuss the title which has intriguing implications of faith, light, protection, change, and memory.
  • This novel started slow for me. I couldn’t get into it at first and wasn’t sure how the stories were connected. At times, the many different names of people in the town (especially in the 1918 stories) were hard to keep straight. But once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down!


Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool tells the story of Abilene Tucker, a young girl sent to Manifest, Kansas for the summer who uncovers the stories of the town and herself. Goodreads summarizes, “Abilene Tucker feels abandoned. Her father has put her on a train, sending her off to live with an old friend for the summer while he works a railroad job. . . . Having heard stories about Manifest, Abilene is disappointed to find that it’s just a dried-up, worn-out old town. But her disappointment quickly turns to excitement when she discovers a hidden cigar box full of mementos, including some old letters that mention a spy known as the Rattler. These mysterious letters send Abilene and her new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, on an honest-to-goodness spy hunt. . . . Abilene throws all caution aside when she heads down the mysterious Path to Perdition to pay a debt to the reclusive Miss Sadie, a diviner who only tells stories from the past. It seems that Manifest’s history is full of colorful and shadowy characters—and long-held secrets. The more Abilene hears, the more determined she is to learn just what role her father played in that history. And as Manifest’s secrets are laid bare one by one, Abilene begins to weave her own story into the fabric of the town. Powerful in its simplicity and rich in historical detail, Clare Vanderpool’s debut is a gripping story of loss and redemption.

“Telling a story ain’t hard . . . . All you need is a beginning, middle, and end.”

“The story was about real people who had lived and loved. And in some way I had been allowed into their world. And they had welcomed me. The only way I could give back was to be faithful. Even though it crushed me.”

Moon Over Manifest, pages 140 & 315

My absolute favorite part of this novel is the storytelling. That is what got me hooked on this novel. I felt excitement like Abilene every time Miss Sadie began a story from 1918 Manifest. Vanderpool creates such a rich tapestry of stories that overlap and connect in intriguing ways. The writing is beautiful which adds to the compelling nature of the stories. This is not your average children’s novel–the tone and writing are deeper and darker than others I have read. But the storytelling brings it all together into a compelling plot that kept me turning the pages quickly.

Another favorite element of this novel is the multiple time periods the stories are set in. I also enjoyed the different styles the plot was given in. The newspaper articles and Miss Sadie’s stories added a neat complexity to the overall plot. I love novels that have different time periods because they often have mysterious, engaging plots. This novel definitely has that. We get stories from 1938 and 1918, both primarily in Manifest, Kansas. The main characters in the earlier time are different than in the 1938 stories but the connection between the two is impossible to ignore. Vanderpool creates a fascinating mystery between the two times and brings the stories together in an unexpected climax. Certainly, I won’t spoil the connections (because y’all need to read the book for yourself!) but I will say that the ending is unique and satisfying. I loved it.

The characters in this novel are well written and intriguing. My favorites were Abilene, Shady, Jinx, and Ned. I love Abilene for her innocent and fierce desire to know more about and love for her father. I loved Shady because he believes in what is right and is quietly loyal. Plus, he makes me laugh with his still and speakeasy! I found Jinx fascinating for his transformation through the novel and his many unique ideas. And I loved Ned because he was an average American who loved his country, his hometown, and his family. These are just a few of the beautifully written characters in this book. The characters are relatable because they are flawed people who are just trying to make a better life for themselves and their family.

“She bears the story of Manifest. When everyone else is crushed by it, by the loss, the pain. When no one else can bare to remember. She is the keeper of the story. Until someone who needs to hear it comes along. When it will be time to make it known. To manifest. That’s what a diviner does.”

Moon Over Manifest, page 333

Why did this win the Newbery? Again, I think the award is very well deserved here. The story and genre mixture are unique–I’ve never read anything quite like this. Vanderpool’s storytelling is impressive and easy to get lost in. The characters are beautifully written and worth relating to. The tone and themes in the novel are dark at times (including a Ku Klux Klan meeting, descriptions of WWI, and Jinx’s past) but these darker elements lead readers to a more positive, redemptive ending. With those darker elements, I would recommend this book to older kids (ages 8-10+) and adults.

A compelling novel full of mystery, friendship, and redemption, Moon Over Manifest is a novel that you could reread several times and always catch a new detail. With gorgeous storytelling and relatable characters, this novel gives children and adults alike so much to experience and ponder. While it was a bit slow for me at first, I loved it by the end!

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What are your favorite Newbery Winners?
Have you read this one yet?

This is my 10th Newbery novel finished as part of my Newbery Challenge. My goal is to read all Newbery Medal winners by the end of 2020.


6 thoughts on “[Moon Over Manifest]: A Review

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