Wednesday, September 1, 2010

True Places Can't Be Found On Any Map

Coming October 12 to a bookstore near you:
Moon Over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool (Delacorte, for ages 9 to 12).

Moon Over Manifest is one of those rare novels that you want to start reading all over again the minute you finish it.

It's that good.

And touching and sweet and funny.

Vanderpool's debut is impressive for its depth, characterizations, rich texture and many-layered plot. My WIP is a middle-grade novel and I despair -- DESPAIR, I tell you -- of ever being able to write this well.

It's 1936 and twelve-year-old Abilene Tucker is sent by her daddy to spend the summer with Shady Howard, an old friend of his, in Manifest, Kansas. Gideon Tucker has to work a railroad job and thinks Abilene is getting too old to tag along.

Stuck in the small dusty town during the height of the Depression, Abilene tries to avoid getting to know any of the townspeople. After all, she'll only be here for the summer. But she's drawn in anyway. Soon she's hanging around with Lettie and Ruthanne, trying to solve the mystery of who The Rattler is, or doing chores for Miss Sadie the fortune-teller, who begins to weave a tale for Abilene. Abilene finds a cigar box full of old treasures, and Sadie's stories gradually explain the treasures and what they meant to two friends in 1918.

Writing two alternating timelines HAS to be difficult, but Vanderpool pulls it off beautifully. As you read, you find yourself beginning to truly care about these people, the hardworking citizens of Manifest, both in 1918 and 1936, the miners, the merchants, and especially Hattie Mae, Sister Redempta, Miss Sadie, and Shady Howard, who all appear in both timelines.

Along with Abilene, you wonder when her father will come into the stories, because Abilene hungers for any insight into her quiet father's character. It isn't hard to guess who her father is in the stories from 1918, but it doesn't matter because it's so touching.

This isn't just a story about family and love and sacrifice. It's about friends who are like family. Really, it's about an entire town and its people -- people from many different ethnic backgrounds -- and how they come together in a crisis. The author expertly juggles numerous characters and you get to know each one.

You also feel you are actually there. Clare Vanderpool has done her research. But she's not feeding you dry facts about Prohibition or the Spanish Influenza. She makes history come to life with lots of sensory details, colorful characters, and vivid dialogue.

This would be an excellent book for teachers and librarians, and anyone who loves historical fiction.

What books have YOU finished lately that you wanted to start reading all over again?

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