Friday, September 23, 2011

Newberry 2011: Moon Over Manifest

Booklist records this review of Moon Over Manifest, the 2011 Newberry Award winner: 

After a life of riding the rails with her father, 12-year-old Abilene can’t understand why he has sent her away to stay with Pastor Shady Howard in Manifest, Missouri, a town he left years earlier; but over the summer she pieces together his story. In 1936, Manifest is a town worn down by sadness, drought, and the Depression, but it is more welcoming to newcomers than it was in 1918, when it was a conglomeration of coal-mining immigrants who were kept apart by habit, company practice, and prejudice. Abilene quickly finds friends and uncovers a local mystery. Their summerlong “spy hunt” reveals deep-seated secrets and helps restore residents’ faith in the bright future once promised on the town’s sign. Abilene’s first-person narrative is intertwined with newspaper columns from 1917 to 1918 and stories told by a diviner, Miss Sadie, while letters home from a soldier fighting in WWI add yet another narrative layer. Vanderpool weaves humor and sorrow into a complex tale involving murders, orphans, bootlegging, and a mother in hiding. With believable dialogue, vocabulary and imagery appropriate to time and place, and well-developed characters, this rich and rewarding first novel is “like sucking on a butterscotch. Smooth and sweet.” Grades 5-8. --Kathleen Isaacs

[Spoilers follow!]

I have a different opinion, though. Moon Over Manifest meets many of the Newberry criteria, but not all of them. It is “ distinguished” in four areas – interpretation of theme, delineation of characters, delineation of setting, and appropriateness of style.
∗ The themes of acceptance, community, and “true places” wonderfully permeate the book.
∗ The characters are quirky, engaging, and easy to distinguish. Abilene’s voice is endearing and insightful, especially when she makes unexpected connections such as likening a messy desk to a typewriter that “tried to spell explosion and the explosion happened.”
∗ The setting is a beautiful interpretation of small town struggles during the great depression. Setting grounds the story naturally and is not intrusive.
∗ The style is inspired – the reader learns from the past how to live in the present right along with Abilene and realizing the union between the two years (1936 and 1918) was fascinating.
However, Moon Over Manifest is not so distinguished in two significant areas – organization and plot development.
∗ The organization of mysterious elements was unclear and a bit distracting. This is significantly true when dealing with the true identity of Jinx. Abilene spends so much time pining for her father, that Jinx would have no purpose in the book if he was NOT her father. The reveal of Jinx’s true identity is anticlimactic.
∗ The plot development is weak in pacing and in balance. Development of plot A was slow (a girl wandering a town for the summer), to the point of being overshadowed by the more interesting plot B (a boy carrying out various cons on unsuspecting townspeople).
While Moon Over Manifest is a good read, I cannot consider it a “ distinguished contribution.”