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Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade Readers, Read-Aloud Suggestions

MOON OVER MANIFEST by Clare Vanderpoole…NEWBERRY AWARD 2011

Moon Over Manifest is the story of Abilene Tucker.  As the story begins, 12-year-old Abilene Tucker is arriving in the town of Manifest, Kansas.  She has been sent there by her father, Gideon Tucker.  Although Abilene has always traveled with Gideon, he has decided that she will go to a town where he spent some time as a youth and he will return for her at the end of the summer.  Abilene is confused and unhappy about her father’s abrupt decision to send her away.

Abilene jumps off the train before it actually pulls into the station at Manifest in order to observe the town before she actually arrives.  She is to stay with Pastor “Shady” Howard. Gideon has told her little about Manifest except the fact that he lived there for a time and that she would be welcome.  Abilene finds little in Manifest that endears it to her at first.

Her most prized possession is a compass of her father’s, which she carries all the time.  During a small adventure spying on the town undertaker as he measures a grave Abilene discovers she has lost the compass.  When she returns to search for it she does indeed find it–as a part of a complicated metal wind chime in front of Miss Sadie’s Diving Parlor past the gates labeled “Perdition”–a word with which Abilene is familiar from the sermons of various ministers.

Abilene accidentally shatters an irreplaceable Hungarian pot as she tries to reach the compass.  Miss Sadie allows Abilene to pay for the broken pot and earn back the compass by doing various chores for her.  Unhappy, but seeing the justice in this agreement, Abilene begins to work for Miss Sadie.  As she works, Miss Sadie begins to tell Abilene the story of Manifest’s history.

Abilene is hoping desperately that Miss Sadie will reveal something that will help her fill in the gaps in her knowledge of her father.  The story of Manifest, however, is much more than Abilene ever expected. The lives of people who still live in Manifest and the lives of some who are gone weave in and out of each other.  Abilene is surprised by the fact that each person has their own story to tell. What Abilene finds in the course of Miss Sadie’s stories and the telling of her own, is the truth of the relationships people have with each other–how much we need each other in so many different ways and for so many different reasons.

Abilene finds in Manifest the beginning, the middle and the end of her own story.  She also finds people to love and people who love her.  She finds the way in which her story joins her father’s story–which is exactly what she came to Manifest to find.

The two narratives–Abilene’s from 1936 and Miss Sadie’s stories from 1917-18–are told in alternating chapters.  Both have characters that leap fully formed from the pages into the reader’s imagination.  The two separate narratives are connected by mementos from one time to another and by some of the characters that reside in both stories at both time periods.  The plot resolution is both heart-warming and satisfying.

This is an excellent example of historical fiction with accurate representations from the early 20th Century in the United States, as well as a trove of fully realized characters each with his or her own depth and charm.  It is, above all, a fantastic STORY–one that is greatly worth reading.  It’s a terrific book for a class that is studying Prohibition/bootlegging, World War I or early 20th Century America.

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