Sunday, November 25, 2018

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Source of book: Audiobook from the library

This book is part of our haphazard exploration of Newbery Award winners and runner-ups. Walk Two Moons won the award in 1995. Literature seems to go in cycles. There was a time in the 1970s when it seemed like books were sad or troubling, and then again in the 1990s. This book leans in that direction, although it isn’t nearly as dark as The Giver, which was pretty triggering for me given my background. Walk Two Moons isn’t creepy, actually, just filled with, as the main character puts it, “the birds of sadness.” That said, despite the tragedy, grief, trauma, and conflicted emotions, the book is also full of hope and love. 

I am kind of hesitant to give much of a plot summary, as some of the really important details aren’t revealed until late in the book. I’ll try to avoid any major spoilers.

The book is divided into three narratives, which are interwoven. The first is almost a framing story: Salamanca, aka Sal, a 13 year old girl, is traveling with her grandparents on an epic road trip from Ohio to Idaho. Sal’s mother, after suffering a traumatic miscarriage and hysterectomy, has questioned her identity, and taken a road trip to see a cousin in Idaho. She has not returned. Sal dances around the reason why until near the end of the book. While on the trip, Sal tells us the story of her parents and her former life on a farm in Kentucky. She tells her grandparents the story of her life in Ohio, where her dad has moved with her after her mom’s departure. That story centers around her friend Phoebe, whose own family is coming apart at the seams. Each of these threads is unfolded as the book goes along. Sal essentially has to process her own emotions and experiences through each thread.

One of Sal’s discoveries is how different marriages work - or don’t. Phoebe’s mom is uptight and conventional, pouring herself into being the perfect wife and mother. But her family doesn’t really appreciate her, so she is dying inside, as Sal can see. Neither parent is horrible, but they are dysfunctional, and can’t seem to really connect. In some ways, this mirrors her own parents, although they have different personalities. Her mom is a bit of a free spirit, but feels she cannot live up to the perfection of her husband, who is kind, gentle, and thoughtful. Basically two good people who are too insecure to be truly happy.

In contrast are a couple of other marriages. Sal’s friend Mary Lou’s parents preside over a somewhat chaotic and low income household, but the home is filled with love. They embrace anyone who comes their way, including their nephew Ben, whose mother is in a mental institution. The other is that of Sal’s paternal grandparents - the ones she is taking the trip with. They are goofy, eccentric (they once got arrested for borrowing a wheel off a police car, among other capers), and not quite normal, but they are, 50 years later, still madly in love with each other.

Throughout the book, it seems that Creech contrasts the straitlaced, uptight sorts with the free spirits. Apparently, this is one element she drew from her own life. (The road trip is also drawn from her experiences. As is her complicated relationship with her mother.) I rather suspect she had relatives who fell on both sides of this issue, and perhaps struggled with where she would fit in.

Overall, a well written book. My kids found the humorous sections fun, and didn’t seem to mind the sadder stuff. Your mileage may vary.

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