Thursday, August 22, 2013

Book Review: Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

The “present” is the summer of 1936. The “past” is eighteen years earlier, during the years of 1917-1918, when the U.S. entered World War I.

Abilene Tucker has been sent to Manifest by her father, who up till now has seemed content to rove with her over hill and dell. But since she’s stuck there for the summer, she might as well try to discover all she can about her father and the town that came to life in his eyes when he told stories about it. The trouble is that Manifest is no longer the town “with a past and a bright future” as it had said on the sign back in the day. Now, it’s just a town “with a past.” Abilene Tucker has her work cut out for her in trying to unravel it.

She makes friends—some her own age, and some are older; people who had been there and known her father. The intimidating Miss Sadie seems to be the one who knows the most about Manifest “back then”, but Abilene can’t push her—she would tell the story in her own way and at her own pace. Moon Over Manifest is a simple story about the meeting and reconciling of the past with the present. Abilene learns about the people, her father along with them. And with Miss Sadie telling the story, Abilene sees that everyone has their own unique story. They fit together, criss-crossing, running parallel, starting and stopping, making history.

“Back then”, the story was about a town trying to free itself from under the thumb of the oppressive owner of the local mine—the only main source of jobs and income in the town. “Now” the town must wake up from its stagnant slumber before it fades away into nothing. “Back then”, almost everyone in Manifest was an immigrant. “Now”, Abilene has to research and learn about the various meanings of the word, “manifest” and why it’s an appropriate name for such a town.

Moon Over Manifest is a beautifully written book. Clare Vanderpool does a brilliant job of drawing out different characters and giving them each their own voice, making the reader feel as though he is actually meeting all these people, instead of reading about them. There are letters from one young man, newspaper columns, Abilene’s perspective, Miss Sadie’s story…the book, like the people of Manifest, is a hodgepodge that comes together with strength and unity to make a statement.

And what is that statement? What is the point of the town of Manifest and the unique style of the book? It’s this: A home can be found, and those you feel at home with are your family.

It’s a beautiful sentiment, and the story is certainly worth reading and considering. If the 2011 Newbery Medal isn’t recommendation enough, I definitely recommend it for all middle-grade readers! (9-12 years old.)

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