Allison's Book Bag

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Posted on: February 15, 2014

The first thing that I realized about Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool is that it’s not the type of book one should fit into a busy schedule. The second thing that happened is I found myself seeking out reviews of it. What does that say about my opinion of this Newbery winner? The book isn’t an easy read, but it has a select audience.

The first reason that Moon Over Manifest makes for a difficult read is the huge cast of characters. In fact, before you even get to the title page, you’re going to encounter a character list. This alone should serve as warning that this is a different type of book. First, there is Abilene, the heroine whose dad shipped her off to his hometown, because he felt she should grow up in one place. Naturally, then, there’s her dad, Gideon, except we only ever hear of him through Abilene. Next there’s Shady, who is a saloon owner but also does church business. After that, there’s Hattie Mae, who writes newspaper columns, and offers Abilene her first good meal in town. Then there’s Sister Redempta, who teaches school and assigns Abilene to write a personal story, despite it being the last day of school. Next there’s Letty and Ruthanne, who agree to help Abilene with her summer homework. After that is the Rattler, who writes a note warning Abilene to “Leave Well Alone” but whom we never meet. And if that’s not enough characters to overwhelm you, there’s Miss Sadie, who is the town diviner but also a storyteller. Moreover, the list still isn’t done! If that’s not bad enough, you’ll notice most of these characters aren’t twelve-year-olds like Abilene but instead are adults. At times, I felt not only overwhelmed but bored.

The second reason that Moon Over Manifest makes for a difficult read is the multiple subplots. Soon after Miss Sadie is introduced, the typeface temporarily changes. No, it’s not a design flaw. The change in font merely signals the start of a second story. This story is about Jinx, whose father set him up him to take the blame for the murder of a man. Actually, there’s yet another font change, because there’s a third story about Ned, who sets off to war because of Jinx but ends up getting killed in battle. Right about now might also be a good time to mention that inserted between the chapters are newspaper columns and advertisements. With all these stories going on, it might come as no surprise that Moon Over Manifest is over 300 pages long. At times, reading Moon Over Manifest felt akin to scaling a mountain of infinite height. It didn’t help either that the plot involving the narrator, Abilene, amounted to little more than a girl listening to tales from her community while waiting for her dad to come back for her.

Because I kept having to put Moon Over Manifest aside to process everything that had happened, I started seeking out reviews. I needed to know what I was missing. After all, the novel had won the Newbery. Also, I had heard Vanderpool speak and found of interest the historical research which she had put into this book. I didn’t want to give up, but I needed reassurances that there was a reason to persevere. Most reviewers who liked Moon Over Manifest seemed to recognize that the first half is slow and a bit of a jumbled mess. However, they also noted that around the midpoint the story picked up pace, and they appreciated the story’s complexity. Now having completed this marathon read, I’d have to agree. About halfway through, when Jinx is helping the townsfolk pull one over on the power mongrels, I found myself enjoying Moon Over Manifest and marveling at how all the events were indeed intertwined. For example, both Jinx and Ned are loved by the townsfolk and change how the community views itself. One of them is related to our spunky heroine, Abilene.

If you can get to the heart of its story, Moon Over Manifest has a lot to offer. I enjoyed the adventures of Jinx, the boy who felt as if he cursed everyone he touched. The adult side of me at least also gained an appreciation for how townsfolk overcame their fears and differences to stand up against corruption. However, Moon Over Manifest is like a stew, which needs time to simmer in your thoughts. Young people who enjoy classics might enjoy plummeting into its depths. Beyond that, Vanderpool will probably find her biggest appeal among mature readers.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

2 Responses to "Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool"

What a great review that points out that you need to persevere to get to the heart of this novel… thanks for sharing 🙂

Thanks for the compliment! One thing my blogging life has taught me is that there are all kinds of readers. Some need a book to work instantly; others don’t mind giving a book a chance. 🙂

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