Moon Over Manifest
Posted by: Gary Niebuhr
Our staff readers advisory title this month was the Newbery Medal winning title for 2011, Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool. Our staff reads a different genre or style each month but has always faithfully included children’s fiction and young adult titles to make sure the adult readers are reading outside their safety zones and to gain the information we need help our younger readers connect with the story they want to read.
But the process often confuses me and this is one time where that is true. So, what is my issue?
I would be willing to bet that if we bought a copy of Moon Over Manifest and put it on our adult shelves with no indication that it was marketed as juvenile fiction, it would move off pretty quickly. In my opinion (and I mean this with the highest praise intended), I do not find this book particularily geared towards children. Rather, because of its complex structure and because of the historical context, I would argue it is the perfect book for readers of any age who want to be drawn into Vanderpool’s web. If you were looking for read alikes, think To Kill a Mockingbird.
The basic story of Moon Over Manifest is that a twelve-year-old girl named Abilene Tucker is sent alone by her father to the town of Manifest, Kansas, in 1936. Her father, Gideon, is a drifter caught up in all that the Great Depression has to offer and his current employment as a railroad worker in Iowa does not provide the situation he wants for his daughter.
Arriving in Manfest, Abilene is determined to discover secrets about her father’s past that are buried in the town and to ensure his return by September to avoid her having to stay, enter the school system and function like an orphan.
Through a series of circumstances, three other narrators appear in the text. The first is a Sadie Redizon of Miss Sadie’s Divining Parlor who, inspired by the talismans discovered under a floor board by Abilene, slowly reveals the past history of two never-do-wells named Jinx and Ned who haunted Manifest in 1917. The second narration comes in the form of Ned’s battlefield letters as he fights in Europe in the first world war. The last narrator is the sweet but informative columns of Hattie Mae Harper form the local newspaper.
If you think this is complicated, I have not (and will not bother to) begin to try to explain who all these characters are, how they relate to each other and what the thematic consequences are of their interactions.
What I am willing to say is that this title is so chock full of stuff that I cannot imagine an adult book discussion group not spending the entire evening trying to understand the characters and justify their actions.
This was a great book for our staff to discuss and I hope it will get a wide readership as it works as a small town mystery, a coming of age novel and as a slice of life in historic Depression age America.