Monday, March 13, 2017

The girl who drank the moon by Kelly Barnhill

An epic coming-of-age fairy tale destined to be a modern classic.

If you only read one book this year - grab this one.  The writing and storytelling are breathtaking - no wonder it just won the Newbery Medal. I also love books about the subversive use of power.  In this case fear and sorrow are used to control the populace while the Elders enjoy rich food and status. This is also a story about destiny.  Babies are left in the forest each year to satisfy the witch, or so the villagers are told. But Xan, the witch, rescues the babies and takes them to another village.

"Xan took her time selecting the proper family for each child, making sure their characters and inclinations and sense of humour were a good match for the little life that she had cared for over the course of such a long journey. And the Star Children, as they were called, grew from happy infants to kind adolescents to gracious adults."

Xan rescues Luna but she accidentally fills her with moonlight and she also falls deeply in love with this tiny baby so instead of taking her to the village she takes her home.  Meanwhile Luna's mother is mad with grief and so she is locked in a high tower where the Sisters of the Star live.  Their leader is Sister Ignatia and she is truly evil but I won't tell you more.

You will need to set aside time to read this book.  It took me over a week partly because there are over 380 pages, partly because I kept gasping at the events in the story especially towards the end and partly because, while the rewards are great, this story does require some concentration. Reading just before bed was not the ideal time for this complex story.

You can hear the whole book here - eight hours of audio book.  Here is an interview with the author where the interviewer talks about the depth of the characters and the way you have to do so much thinking as you read this book as you untangle the motivations and connections between them.  I also recommend you read this review from the Nerdy Book Club.

Here are a few quotes from the text which I think demonstrate the beautiful craft of Kelly Barnhill:

"Luna's grandmother used to be bulbous and squat - all soft hugs and squishy cuddles. Now she was fragile and delicate and light - dry grasses wrapped in a crumbling paper that might fall apart in a gust of wind."

"A man with a scratched-up face and a swollen lower lip and bloody bald sports across his skull where his hair had been torn out in clumps met them at the door. ... his tongue went instinctively to the gap where a tooth had just recently been."

"There is magic in starlight, of course. This is well known. But because the light travels such a long distance, the magic in it is fragile ... it is enough to bless, but not too enmagic. Moonlight, however. That is a different story."

It is worth clicking on each of the quotes below to read the reviews and more plot details of this engrossing book.

After reading The girl who drank the moon I would look for Fire Girl, The Thickety (mature readers) and Dragon Keeper by Carole Wilkinson (and the sequels).  You might also like to try the trilogy by Anna Ciddor which begins with Runestone.

Replete with traditional motifs, this nontraditional fairy tale boasts sinister and endearing characters, magical elements, strong storytelling, and unleashed forces. Kirkus

Barnhill’s language is lyrical and reminiscent of traditional fairy tales, but ­never childish or stereotypical. She writes impressively from a variety of points of view, not only those of Luna and Xan, but also of Sister Ignatia and the ­mother who has lost her mind. Magic abounds, both beautiful and dangerous.  New York Times

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