Book Review : The Girl Who Drank The Moon
Newberry Award Winner 2017
By Kelly Barnhill
Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. 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. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)
Adult Point of View
I frequently find I am out of step with the Newberry winners. Why is this? I read a variety of books in multiple genres and am very familiar with children’s literature. I believe the committee who chooses the winners have a different agenda on what they are looking for in a book. In children’s literature, I look for excellent writing, identifiable characters, usually an uplifting story and meaningful (which are actually elements I enjoy in adult literature too, though the list could be longer).
In The Girl Who Drank The Moon, there were some elements that I enjoyed. I liked how the baby Luna is described; she is quite precocious and knows the Grand Elder Gherland is up to no good. Luna has the same birthmark as her mother, brown skin and black curly hair – she could have been of many different ethnic backgrounds, which wasn’t part of the story. Reading about characters with different backgrounds is a great way to combat prejudice. With a stretch, one could also say the novel shows the love between children and their adopted parents.
I also liked several other characters. The grandmother, Xan, is kind and giving, Glerk is a monster with the heart of a poet and the dragon, Fryian, is guileless and busy as any two year old. Antain, is kind of a wimp, but he has his heart in the right place. Most of the male characters feel flat compared to the female characters.
I enjoyed the imagery of the origami birds being formed from magic and flying. The descriptions of Antain’s home with his wife were also delightful. Finally, the description of the dragon growing was very fun. How often do we think a child just needs to grow into their features?
The voice or tone has a sing-song happy, baby-word, fairytale, but everything is not right in their world; the entire city is depressed and the actual witch eats their sorrow, and engineers more sorrow. The novel has a scattering of inserts of an unidentified person telling stories – later we learn the identity of the storyteller, at least one storyteller.
“It is not an ordinary volcano, you know. It was made thousands and thousands of years ago by a witch.
Which witch? Oh, I don’t know. Not the Witch we’ve got, surely. She is old, but she is not that old.” (p. 240)
The charming origami birds cut Antain’s face, which is left as a map of scars. The witch, Sister Ignatia, murders hatchlings for the sorrow of their mother as well as feeding on the sorrow of the parents who have had their children stolen, the Protectorate leaves children in the woods suspecting they are eaten by animals to preserve their stranglehold over the population. The story addresses hard issues.
I didn’t like how the author suddenly introduced seven league boots into the story. They were completely unnecessary, and everything they accomplished could have been done in another way. The author had Glerk re-hash words from the Bible, “In the beginning, there was the Bog. And the Bog covered the world and the Bog was the world and the world was the Bog.” (p.381) – it was odd to bring a Christian overtone to Glerk as though he was a type for Christ, I liked him better as a monster who loved poetry. Christianity didn’t fit into the world Barnhill had created.
The Girl Who Drank The Moon, it was a fast read – and a story that will stick with you long after you close the last page.
4 out of 5 stars
Other books I recommend for middle-grade readers include Schooled by Gordan Korman, Maniac Mcgee by Jerry Spinelli, The Candy Shop War by Brandon Mull, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman and Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George.