Allison's Book Bag

What the Moon Said by Gayle Rosengren

Posted on: August 22, 2014

Through Advanced Reader Copies, I am becoming a fan of historical fiction for young people. Each offering to date has engaged me, while also transporting me to another time and place. For that reason, I happily accepted Gayle Rosengren’s request to review her debut novel What the Moon Said and am now delighted to recommend it to you.

A couple of aspects of the plot make What the Moon Said original. First, Esther’s family is highly superstitious. The mom has taught the family to not step on a crack and to hang up horseshoes. She has also convinced them to believe in signs. It’s hard not to, when so many of them come true. When the mom dropped a spoon at supper, company did come. When she dreamed about a wedding, a neighbor did have an accident and die. And the day after seeing a ring around the moon, their family does experience hardship in the form of the dad losing his job. When Esther is told to stop hanging around with a new friend, however, Esther begins to question her family’s beliefs. Could a mole on her friend’s face really mean Bethany has been marked by fairies? And no matter what, how does she walk away from the only friend she knows? Or for that matter, tell Bethany the reason that they can no longer be friends?

Second, Esther’s mom is not an affectionate person. She does not easily praise the family and rarely hugs or kisses them. In contrast, other moms showed affectionate to not only their husband but to their children. What’s worse, is that if Esther attempts to embrace her mom, she is essentially rejected. Her mom will stiffen, pull away, or even criticize some mistake that Esther has made. Actually, Esther perhaps wouldn’t mind her mom’s demeanor, if she were the only one treated like this. However, to her, it seems as if sometimes her mom will offer praise or other forms of attention to Esther’s sister and brother. This latter issue doesn’t ever seem to be resolved, but the first is in an effective and convincing matter. Through challenges which the family and their neighbors faces due to the Depression, Esther begins to develop a understanding of what love is.

Another way in which What the Moon Said engaged me is through Esther’s character. She has this quirk, which I relate to, of being able to use her imagination in almost every situation. It gives her an indelible hope. When the family must leave the city to live on a farm, Esther initially cries at the thought of leaving behind everything which is familiar to her. She wonders if there will be even be ice-cream shops, libraries, or theaters? Pretty quickly, Esther instead begins to daydream about rolling green fields, an apple orchard, and a splashing brook. In her mind, she sees a big red barn, a fat brown cow, two prancing gray horses, and dozens of chickens. There’s even a snug white house with green shutters. Of course, reality is never as pleasant as one’s fantasy. Yet I enjoyed and connected with Esther’s penchant to turn the more miserable aspects of her life into endurable and even pleasant ones.

What the Moon Said has a strong sense of place. In my interview with her, Rosengren made clear that research helped this happen. For example, she mentioned how originally her story had the teachers giving out candy canes for treats. Her research revealed that candy canes, however, didn’t exist until the 1950s! From everything I have read about the depression, the struggles which Esther’s family undergo in trying to keep a job, affording clothes, and keeping themselves fed ring true. Although I know in my heart that life isn’t always kind, and one must deal with that reality, I wanted to protest right along with Esther at the unfairness of their family having to continue to move, leave behind friends, and even for a time stay in different homes to survive. Rosengren has written an honest and heartfelt novel about the Midwestern life in the 1930’s.

What struck me most about What the Moon Said is its strength of story. Rosengren could have set her tale in any other time and place. While her story is certainly richer for having been set in a specific locale, I would have been no less engaged. The more reviews I read, the more I’m learning how important of a skill this is for an author to have. Bravo to Galyle Rosengren for creating a terrific story and for making the Depression come alive to me in the process.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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