Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Moon Over Manifest, by Claire Vanderpool

Twelve-year-old Abilene Tucker has led an interesting life for a child. Growing up during the Great Depression, she has always lived as a drifter with her father, jumping trains, and staying only briefly in one place. But her father Gideon has suddenly decided that the lifestyle isn't suitable. He's found work in Iowa, and has decided to send Abilene to Manifest, Kansas, a town where he spent many of his childhood years. He has always told Abilene stories of the bustling town, full of vivid characters, and she's sorely disappointed to see that it's just a small, dusty place without much life in it at all.

While staying with Shady, a local preacher who runs his services from a living room/bar/chapel in his home, Abilene discovers a box beneath a loose floorboard in her bedroom. She hopes it's something to connect her to Gideon, whom she already misses intensely. Much to her disappointment, it's a small collection of trinkets and a bundle of letters written during the first world war by a soldier named Ned to his friend Jinx. One of the letters makes mention of an undefined person named "The Rattler". There's also a map which leads Abilene to believe that there may have been a spy in the town, and the map could be a clue!

Abliene shares her suspicions with two local girls she has made friends with, and they canvass the town looking for potential suspects. During their explorations in the town cemetery, Abilene loses the compass her father had given her. When she goes back to look for it, she finds it on a nearby property- Miss Sadie's Divining Parlor. The property is eerie, with many trinkets (including her compass) hanging about the yard, and a wrought iron sign reading "Perdition" marking the entrance. She breaks a clay pot attempting to retrieve the compass and runs. When she returns to Miss Sadie's to retrieve it, she is told that the pot had traveled all the way from Hungary. Abilene must work off her debt before her compass will be returned.

Miss Sadie requires a great deal of hard work- gathering herbs and planting a garden in an unyielding patch of dirt out back. But as Abilene works, Miss Sadie begins to tell her stories of Jinx, the boy to whom the packet of letters was addressed. Over the course of the summer, Abilene learns the history of Manifest and its people, whom her father had loved so well.

I know I'm ending this review on a somewhat dry note, but this is truly a fabulous book and I'm just trying not to be a spoiler. The characters are all truly three-dimensional and well drawn. Abilene is also accurately done as a girl who's lived reasonably independently her whole life, but is still a little girl. She's homesick without ever having had any other home but her father. Clare Vanderpool has done an unbelievable job weaving together the stories of Manifest's past and present. I'm amazed that this is her first novel. This Newbery Medal is well-deserved!

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