Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Source of book: Audiobook from the library


This book was the last one from our spring break trip, but it was a bit too long to finish. Thus, it took a few weeks of school commuting before we finished it. This book is also part of our rather unsystematic exploration of the Newbery Award winners and honors during our travels. Moon Over Manifest won the Newbery for 2011. 


In a kind of weird coincidence, this book has some elements in common with another book we listened to on the trip, As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds. It has a kid spending a summer in a new town, with new people, and some hidden secrets to uncover. But there are differences too. In this book, Abilene Tucker is practically an orphan. Her mother died years ago, and she has lived with her father, who would be described these days as a drifter or even a vagrant. When her father goes off to work a railroad job during the Great Depression, she is sent to live with one of his old friends, in Manifest, Kansas (loosely based on another town, Frontenac.) She discovers a treasure trove of items left behind by a boy nicknamed Jinx, and sets out to discover the history - with some help from her new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne. Also helping her with her quest is Hattie Mae Harper, the local news reporter, who lets her read the old editions of the paper, and Miss Sadie, a Hungarian immigrant who tells stories about Jinx and his friend Ned, and the other goings-on in town back in the days before and during World War Two. 


Before she knows it, Abilene is caught up in a tale of boyhood friendship, mysterious origins, a nefarious coal mine owner and his ruthless foreman, the Ku Klux Klan, immigrants from around the world, bootleg moonshine, fake funerals, the influenza pandemic of 1918, and more. She also comes to understand her father’s past, and her own potential future in Manifest. 


The story has great characters, and plenty of interesting incidents. The author wrote her own grandparents into the story as minor characters, and many more characters, settings, and incidents have their origin in the stories her grandparents told. As historical fiction, it has a careful attention to detail, even if some of the story itself is a bit more exciting than real life. 


The coal mine, with its oppressive conditions, company store vouchers rather than wages, anti-immigrant sentiment even as the town was majority immigrant - and from as many countries as the book indicates - these are all very real, and Vanderpool handles them in an age-appropriate manner. 


It was also refreshing to see a modern kids book that wasn’t uptight about portraying illegal booze, making it into a key plot point (and a source of humor.) Likewise, it hearkens back to books like Tom Sawyer that lets kids be “bad” without judgment, celebrating the trickster characters. 


The kids and I found it to be an enjoyable story, although we could see some of the big reveals in advance. (My kids are pretty sharp, though, so they are hard to fool.) 


The audiobook was narrated by Jenna Lamia, who does a fine job, with brief sections (narrated by other characters) by Cassandra Campbell and Kirby Heyborne. My only irritation was that the tracks tended to be a bit long, and thus hard to time correctly for short trips. This book isn’t the worst offender, but I really prefer it when tracks are around 3 minutes instead. 


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