105 Ways to Give a Book

Newbery Discussion Week: Moon Over Manifest

Let me start by making it clear that the week’s post are intended to be discussions, not reviews, and as such may include spoilers from the books. You’ve been warned.

Moon Over ManifestIt’s no secret that the winner of the Newbery Award, Moon Over Manifest, came as a surprise to much of the children’s literature community. But why? First, the book was released in October of 2010, meaning that it missed the opportunity for buzz to build over the year. It also wouldn’t have had time to make it to many libraries, who would then be unable to include it in their mock Newbery discussions. Second, the book was an author debut and as such, wasn’t big on the radar or probably on purchase orders. But the third reason interests me the most, and that is that some people who were actively looking to guess the Newbery winners had this book, read a few chapters, and put it down. I’m thinking specifically of the Heavy Medal blog, but I doubt they were the only ones. I had the book myself, skimmed the beginning, and didn’t pursue it.

It’s not that the book is bad, but it is a real slow starter. I’m not even talking the fifty-page rule that dedicated readers give a book. For me, it wasn’t until I was halfway through the three-hundred-fifty-page book before I was invested in it. The little pieces planted in along the way started to come together with explanation and meaning. The story started to build momentum and tension until a point at which a twist, and then another twist really brought it home.

When I put it down at that moment, after the roller-coaster ride of the ending, I totally understood why this book won the Newbery Medal. Because I left it feeling like I’d watched an exciting movie, for which the lengthy setup had left me completely unprepared. It was like going in watching The Remains of the Day and coming out watching Ocean’s Eleven. That was unexpected — and as such, kind of cool — and I closed the book thinking that this was indeed the best of the year. For about a day.

But the more it sat with me, the more I resented the long buildup in a children’s book. I persevered because I knew it had won the award. Also because adult books often have a more meandering style, so it was still within my comfort zone for reading. But I see it as a notable flaw that it was so hard to get into the book, especially considering the target age — which is not actually adults.

Also, the more I thought about it, the less satisfied I was with some of the resolutions. A big part of the buildup is the allusion to something the town is trying to forget or even to hide. At the same time there’s a recurring suggestion that Abilene’s dad left the town because of his own hurt or shame. I wondered if we were coming up on some wild version of “The Lottery.” Now that would be some dark writing. But it turns out that while the secret is fun to discover, it’s not something that a town would consider its dark past. And the catalyst event for the mourning that hangs over the town and Abilene’s dad is that a young man died in a war and her dad helped him sign up. That’s it? I waded through all of that setup and that’s all you’ve got for me? It felt cautious. Like the author couldn’t bear to put a more realistic amount of accountability on the father or the town.

Overall, Moon Over Manifest is a good book. It’s slow, for sure. It’s more observation then action. There are some problems with the resolutions, though others are brilliantly done. There are passages that lean too heavily on the meaningful metaphor, especially in the first few pages. But there is definite skill in linking the two stories of past and present. There is a tremendous amount of attention given to characters with depth and purpose. The book sets a scene, a time, a place with great flavor and detail.

As I said as I started this discussion, I don’t think it’s a bad book. But I do think that there are flaws that don’t make it the ideal gold medal winner. I especially have concern with the highest-award-winning book for children being a book that has the pacing of an adult book, leading me to wonder how accessible it is to kids.

So what do you think about it?

Links to material on Amazon.com contained within this post may be affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program, for which this site may receive a referral fee.

22 comments:

Jennifer said...

I had never even heard of it when it was announced. I looked at the description and groaned "another quirky southern historical fiction novel" and that cover! I did have one 10 year old girl beg me to check her out without her card, b/c she really, really wanted to read this book, but that was kind of a shock. The reviews I've seen and just skimming through it after I reluctantly bought it, it seems more like an adult memoir that suddenly remembered it was supposed to be a children's book.

Stacey said...

I also had not heard of the book before the announcement... When I went to check it out from our usually very stocked library, it was only just on order! And then, when I started reading, I had the same reaction as others.. slow, slow, slow. In fact, I have to admit, I gave up and didn't finish it. While I must say, I am now a bit intrigued hearing about all the twists and turns, I can't imagine that many children would stick around for too long...

Jess said...

I have this one at home but I have just not been motivated to read it yet. I've skimmed a few pages and put it down. It will be one of those books that I keep pushing myself to read because of that shiny sticker. I was kind of stunned when it was announced as the winner. I did manage to have it in my library, but I probably would not have purchased prior to the award announcements. It has been checked out a few times, but it is going to be a hard sell to most of the readers in my area. Historical fiction is not checked out in any quantity.

LibrarianPM said...

I may go back and skim the ending now, but there's no way I'm reading the whole thing. Like others, I made it through a few chapters and put it down. American historical fiction isn't normally my thing anyways, though.

Melissa said...

One thing I truly liked (and I'm biased), is that it really gave Kansas a personality. Too often Kansas is just "nowhere/everyplace" and brushed off as the butt of jokes (yes, I am tired of the Wizard of Oz jokes. Even if I do use them. And I've only been here 5 years!) but Vanderpool, because she's a native and invested in the community, gave it a sense of place.

I do agree, however, that it's not exactly one that's suited to kids. It's the kind of book that wins awards because adults love it, not because kids are clamoring to read it. (Which is why it didn't make our Cybils shortlist.) It's slow, it's dense, and even with the dual protagonists, it's not that exciting for boys OR girls. I love Vanderpool for being a local author, but I wonder how often her book will get read.

Ms. Yingling said...

I don't think I'll buy it, because 99% of my students don't want to read it. Once they started selling the moonshine, I was a little interested, but Jennifer is right about the cover. If I buy any Newbery from this year, it will be Heart of a Samurai. I refuse to buy them just because they win.

MotherReader said...

I'll add, for those of you who are now intrigued by my description of the end, that the excitement came entirely in the flashback part, starting at page 182 for the back story, and really kicking in at page 274-290.

When I think of it, I would have liked the book better if it were just the story contained in the flashback.

1morechapter said...

Well, I really liked it. Yes, it took me awhile to get into it, but I was hooked by the end. I don't read that much kid lit so I can't say it was the best book of the year, though.

It may appeal more to adults than kids, but I know I would have liked it as a kid, just because I grew up on The Great Plains and my community is almost all German immigrants. Many things in common. It also reminded me of my childhood, so it had nostalgia going for it with me as well.

Like I said, I enjoyed it -- more than many Newberys I have read. My favorite Newbery of all is The Giver by Lois Lowry.

My review of the book on my blog:

http://www.1morechapter.com/2011/02/07/moon-over-manifest-by-clare-vanderpool/

Pen and Ink said...

And you demonstrate my reason for rarely wanting to read Newbery books. I felt, as a kid, that they were books grownups thought I should like.
For instance I adore "The View form Saturday", a 1997 medal winner, but I am a grownup now. (sort of...) I don't think I would have liked it as a child.
I am delighted a debut book won and I applaud the achievement. However, I would not read it. If they can't hold my interest on the first page, I don't want to go on.

Lisa Jenn Bigelow said...

Funny, I *just* finished reading Moon Over Manifest and hopped online to see what others' post-Newbery reaction had been... and I'm with you on just about every note. As I've told my fellow librarians, I think I would have liked it a lot more if it had been 200 pages long instead of 350. There is so much potential appeal in the mysteries, the bootlegging scam, etc., but the prose drags along, weighed down by detailed descriptions that couldn't hold my attention and scenes in which nothing seemed to happen (though their significance did finally materialize at the end). I liked the ending and the way the stories came together, but I wished it hadn't felt like so much work to get there.

Suzanne Casamento said...

I didn't read it. I haven't read anything lately which is awful.I need to get on it.

Thank you for peaking my interest!

Becky said...

I read it in the summer and absolutely loved it! I even treated myself to a reread of this one in December. It didn't seem slow to me at all. I thought the writing was beautiful. I especially loved the flashbacks.

Pragmatic Mom said...

Thanks for such a great post. I will track it down and read it myself but I'm not sure my 5th grader will want to read it despite its award. Slow and work is NOT a good combination for kids! I wish it were a more exciting read but I will read it first and judge for myself. But thank YOU. You've reminded and inspired me to actually read it.

Rasco from RIF said...

85% of my reading over the last 9 years while I have been at RIF is child and YA lit. I am reading to be familiar with the books, not to make purchase decisions as those decisions for RIF sites are made locally. So I understand I am coming from a somewhat different perspective. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and did not find it slow in the beginning as many have mentioned. I believe the reason I like it so much is in large part because it reminds me of some of my favorite reading as a child. As to whether it should be the medal winner...I gave up delusions of any ability to call the odds on anything during my 18 years in the political world!

Katie said...

I finally finished it, so I can now weigh in.

I liked the book, but I liked it as an adult reader who could pick out what was impressive about the writing style, or the characterization, or the setting. As a kid, there was no way I would have read a book like this, and the only people who have asked for it in my library so far have been parents and teachers. I think it's a little more kid-friendly than something like Kira-Kira, which I don't think kids relate to at all, but I can't imagine a kid I would be able to sell on it right now.

But I was kind of swept away by the book and ate up everything it offered me. I was very satisfied by the way things turned out, and didn't feel let down in any way by the story itself.

Mindi Rench said...

Like you, I was about halfway in before I got into the story. I ended up liking the book (my review is at http://nextbestbook.blogspot.com), but I wasn't blown away by it. I think many kids will be turned off by that slow buildup. I wish a book like Out of My Mind had won instead. That one didn't even get an honor nod.

JenStorySnoop said...

Overall, I think this book reads like a classic, with humor, suspense, triumph, and tragedy. The characters are so well developed and engaging that readers will miss the fact that they are getting a history lesson. I do agree that this is not a book with broad appeal to it's intended audience, but those who do read it will be rewarded with this special story.

Carrie said...

I was like a lot of other people, I started this one several months ago and then never finished it. I picked it up again and I DID like it this time, even loved it by the end, but I think I loved it as a former 12 year-old. I lOVED the cigar box of momentos; I am a keeper of these small life souvenirs myself as were my mother and grandmother. I was the kid who fantisized about my mother, grandmother and I doing a time travel thing and all being 12 at the same time and BEST friends.

Abilene's story reminded me of what it was like to have events swirl around me as a child that I did not understand. I in fact had wildly in-accurate reasons for why adults behaved they way they did...I was only 12. The part of the book I'm not sure about is Abilene's emotional journey...could she really understand all of this and extrapoliate so much from Miss Sadie's stories? Maybe some 12 year-olds could/can. Maybe I was just not emotionally mature.

If I had read this book when I was 12 I would have loved all of the people in Manifest, the cigar box full of treasures, the map and especially Jinx. The difficult "life themes" I would have skipped right over-not being ready for them yet. I did that with a lot of books. I read them now as an adult and think, "I don't even remember that part!"

The cover needs the cigar box, treasures and map. The girl on the train tracks is an adult appeal image: nostalgia, introspection, the suggestion of balance. As adults we are nostalgic about things that had meaning for us at 12. I think the cover should appeal to the 12-year old end of that spectrum and not the adult end, since the book is for kids. Uncovering the mystery of the cigar box and the letters and the map...that grabs Abilene. How here family's story fits into it is along for the ride - I think she would have been interested in the story inside the box even if it had not related to her Dad.

Or, maybe that's just me reading myself into Abilene!

Joyce Lansky said...

I seemed to have liked Moon Over Manifest when I picked it up, but I found myself not picking it up as much as one would when deep into a book and I sometimes had to reread passages because my mind wandered. It didn't have that got-to-read-it appeal for me, yet I can appreciate the complexity of the plot in that she mixed the two time frames well. Now that I'm finished, I'm feeling confused about the Sadie-Ned-Jinx connection.

SPOILER ALERT

Please explain. Ned's belongings were in the shed, so Ned is Sadie's son, but Abilene got the compass (that Sadie gave her son) from her Dad. So, Ned gave the compass to Jinx, but why did Jinx live with Shady and Ned had a dad? Was Sadie married to Hadley Gillen or was Jinx Sadie's son and because he's a good friend they stored Ned's belongings in the shed? Yet, the author made a comment in the back about Sadie and Ned's story, that makes me think Ned was the four year old son. WHO WAS THE LITTLE BOY WITH SADIE? This is making me crazy, as I over analyze this and can't find an explanation anywhere. I could see this set up in such a way that it could go either way . . . or I missed something big while my mind wandered during the slow parts.

Joyce Lansky said...

SPOILER-

No one gave me an answer, but I did see a Goodreads trivia question that helped me sort it out. As I think this over, Ned was Sadie's son and being a best friend of Jinx's he gave him the compass. Jinx lived with Shady because he was a Jinx and caused his own parents to die. The Gillen's adopted Ned when they wouldn't allow his mama to immigrate due to the eye infection. It would have been obvious had I not zoned out at points in the middle. I guess that means that even though Moon Over Manifest is a good book, I can't give it a five star because I became a reading sleeper too often.

aneducationinbooks said...

Until I got to the last four chapters, I kept saying "This won the Newbery?" Some of the plot twists just didn't work very well but the last four chapters resonated with me and made the whole read worthwhile.

The Teacher's Desk 6 said...

I absolutely LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this book. FANTASTIC language, well-developed REAL characters, humor... the whole enchilada!