Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Review: The Girl Who Drank The Moon – Kelly Barnhill


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.








23 comments:

  1. I am really intreagued by this book. I added it to my TBR recently, but your description of the story and themes has me even more interested. I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it so much - I'm not sure I will be a big fan of the slow pace either but I'll give it a try. Also I agree that it's strange that kids lit awards aren't actually reflective of what kids are reading. There's definitely a place for books like this, but there isn't really a genre for kids-books-for-adults.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I've always felt that way about these awards. Take a look at the children's choice awards - they are rarely the winners of these other more prestigious awards. Nice review.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, there were a few Newbery winners that I loved as a kid, but a lot of them just seemed so serious and adult-y. They’re the kind of books that school forces you to read, not the kind you want to read.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

      Delete
  3. Such a good point about if these award winners would appeal to actual children. It sounds like an interesting idea but boo to being bored during it though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, this wasn’t a “me” book. I doubt I would have been able to finish it as a kid.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

      Delete
  4. This is such an interesting discussion on how the Newbery Award is chosen. When I was a kid, I usually strayed away from novels with an award emblem on them. I associated them with school books; I felt teachers are most drawn to books that have won awards. Back then, I hated reading school books and would continue reading Harry Potter and the Magic Tree House books until the end of time. Now, I try to give all books a chance. However, since most of the characters in this novel are adults, I can't see a lot of children picking it up. The themes sound fantastic though! Great review; happy reading!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly! As a tween, some of my favorite books were Newbery winners, but I also associated the award stickers with school books. I hated school, so that didn’t make me want to read the books.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

      Delete
  5. You definitely make me want to read this book, it sounds cool. Thank you for the knowledge on the Newberry Award.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I have this book on my physical TBR shelf but I haven't read it yet because I've been nervous I wouldn't like it. Even without reading it, something just screamed "slow" from the description and it seems like maybe I'm not far off? It does sound like it has definite good qualities though. I'm glad you at least kind of liked it.

    Tracy @ Cornerfolds

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is slow, but it’s for kids, so the slowness isn’t as bad as in some adult books I’ve read.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

      Delete
  7. I see what you mean about children liking different things. It seems like every time I see a list of awards for children the books are almost always ones that felt more like they were written for adults.

    I also see what you mean about this book's slow pace. I read the first half about a year ago, but never picked it back up. There were some great things about it, but I, even as a young adult myself, didn't have the patients.

    I felt awful because I've met the author and she seems like a really nice person, but sometimes we like what we like regardless of how nice someone is or how beautiful some elements of a book are.

    This is Jacqueline @bluejaybooks (https://bluejaybooks.wordpress.com/) by the way. For some reason, it will only let me comment as anonymous.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, I guess I was wrong about that anonymous part . . . :)

      Delete
    2. Haha, Blogger’s comment system is glitchy. It’s infuriating sometimes. Doesn’t it suck when you meet an amazing author but then don’t like their books? That has happened to me a few times. I always feel horrible about it.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

      Delete
  8. I've often thought the same thing about these awards. There have been plenty of Newbery books that I thought were amazing, both for kids and adults, but quite a few that I just shook my head as I read and wondered if any child would actually get into such a story unless it were read to them by an adult.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. YES! Some of my favorite books are Newbery winners, but there are a few winners that just make me shake my head.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

      Delete
  9. This actually sounds like something I would enjoy but I completely see what you are saying about it not being a good pacing and such for children.

    ReplyDelete
  10. You make a really good point about these awards. My daughter read all of the award winners when she was in 7th and 8th grade and didn't care for a lot of them. Adult me thinks this one sounds great.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It’s cool that your daughter read all of them. I’m in the process of doing that right now. I’m fairly sure I’ll dislike a lot of them, but I’m going to try.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

      Delete
  11. I've been meaning to read this one. My daughter started it but put it down and never picked it up again. It was too slow for her.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You like fantasy novels, so maybe you’ll like this book more than I did? I’m not a huge fantasy lover. If you read it, I hope you like it.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

      Delete