The Girl Who Drank The Moon – 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 in fact a good witch who shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon. Xan rescues the 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 girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. As Luna's thirteenth birthday approaches, her magic begins to emerge—with dangerous consequences. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Deadly birds with uncertain intentions flock nearby. A volcano, quiet for centuries, rumbles just beneath the earth's surface. And the woman with the Tiger's heart is on the prowl . . .
Review: I’ve always been confused about literary awards like the Newbery. It’s an award for children’s books, but it’s judged by adults. I sometimes wonder how many of the winning books actually appeal to children. The books I liked as a kid weren’t exactly highbrow. I enjoyed puke jokes and illustrations of characters in their underwear. My definition of “quality literature” changed drastically when I grew up.
My point is: The Girl Who Drank The Moon won the Newbery award, but I don’t think I would’ve had the patience to slog through it as a child.
An evil witch is stalking a fantasy village. To keep the witch happy, the village leaders select one baby every year to leave in the forest as a sacrifice. What the villagers don’t know is that the leaders are lying to them. The witch isn’t evil. She doesn’t require a baby. In fact, the witch has no idea why the leaders keep leaving babies in her forest. Whenever she comes across one of the abandoned children, she takes it to a different village and gives it to a family who wants it. The whole abandoned baby thing is part of a scheme that the leaders are using to stay in power.
The village leaders keep abandoning babies for years until the witch makes a mistake. She accidentally feeds one of the babies moonlight instead of starlight, infusing the child with magic. The baby can no longer be given to a normal human family. The witch names the girl “Luna” and decides to keep her. As Luna grows into a powerful witch, she will help bring down the village’s corrupt leaders.
I can understand why adults love this book. It’s intricately plotted, full of clever wordplay, and has important themes. There are probably some (very patient) children who would also love this book, but I wondered about the average child. How suitable is this novel for a middlegrade audience? Most of the characters are adults. The novel is nearly 400 pages, and it’s excruciatingly slow. And excruciatingly repetitive. I spent most of the book waiting for the disparate plot threads to come together and make sense. I ended up getting frustrated pretty quickly. Beautiful writing can only get you so far. Eventually, something needs to happen. For most of the book, nothing is really happening.
The book does have some awesome themes, though. The story shows the danger of politicians who use fear of outsiders to gain power. The village leaders play up the “evilness” of the witch in the forest to make the villagers compliant. Only the leaders know how to appease the witch. Without the leaders, the witch will destroy the village. Except, none of that is true. The witch is a friendly, loving old lady who has no reason to hurt the villagers. This “irrational fear of outsiders” theme is very relevant to real-life politics right now.
“Knowledge is power, but it is a terrible power when it is hoarded and hidden.” – The Girl Who Drank The Moon
“A story can tell the truth . . . but a story can also lie. Stories can bend and twist and obfuscate. Controlling stories is power indeed. And who could benefit most from such a power?” – The Girl Who Drank The Moon
I also love how this book shows adoption and adoptive families. The abandoned babies are given to families who love them immensely. There are no evil stepparent stereotypes in here. Happy families come in all shapes and sizes.
So, there are some parts of The Girl Who Drank The Moon that I enjoyed, but mostly I was bored. The plot takes too long to get moving and start making sense. I really don’t think I would’ve had the patience to finish this book as a child.