Friday, January 27, 2012

A Town with a Bright Future...and a Past--a Review of MOON OVER MANIFEST by Clare Vanderpool

Abilene’s father needs to go it alone for a while, so Abilene finds herself depending upon the kindness of a stranger named Shady in Manifest, Kansas, 1936.  It’s the beginning of a long, hot summer, and she has the whole summer to wonder if her father will come back for her at all.  When she finds a cigar box stuffed with Jinx’s mementos under the floorboards of her room, Abilene begins to uncover the secrets of his past, the with only a broken pocket watch to connect them. 

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

With her new friends, Ruthanne and Lettie, Abilene sets out to make known Manifest’s past.  Using mementos and letters from Ned in Jinx’s box, old newspaper clippings, and the divinings of Miss Sadie, the girls learn that there is much more to their sleepy little town than meets the eye.  Tales emerge about con men, bootlegging, murder, the KKK, love and loss.  Soon Abilene learns the truth of Miss Sadie’s words: Who would dream that one can love without being crushed under the weight of it?

Vanderpool’s Newbery-award winning novel packs a whallop.  It’s two historical novels for the price of one.  At the height of the Great Depression, Abilene uncovers the history of Manifest in 1918—a summer of Prohibition, proclamations and promises.  The layers of narrative are thick, but not heavy—“like a warm blanket you pull around your shoulders.”  Vanderpool’s use of motifs and themes is skillful storytelling, especially the device of the railroad, so prominent in early 20th-century history, to keep the characters and the stories connected. 

I recommend this book to readers Grade 8 and up, as it might be helpful to them to have some historical understanding when switching back and forth between the narratives, although the use of varying fonts to tell different stories is helpful.  For adults, especially those of us who like historical novels, this book is a sweet must-read that will take you back to your childhood.

Vital Stats 
Vanderpool, Claire. 2010.  Moon Over Manifest.  New York: Delacorte.  ISBN: 978-0-385-73883-5.

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