Saturday, April 2, 2011

Moon Over Manifest

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool was awarded the 2011 John Newberry Medal. It is historical fiction with a touch of mystery and adventure.  The author’s note in the back provides some background information about what is fact or fiction in this story.  She also shares where the fact or fiction came from.
Twelve year old Abilene Tucker was living on the go with her dad.  It was 1936, and times were tough during the Great Depression.  Gideon, Abilene’s dad, decided to send Abilene to Manifest, Kansas to stay with an old friend, “Shady,” while he worked on a railroad job for the summer.
Abilene feels abandoned by her father.  She wanted to know how he could just ship her off without a second thought to someone she didn’t even know.  Abilene became curious about her father’s past.  What was it about his past that shaped who he was today?
Vanderpool did a great job creating a sense of realism that brought the time period alive.  She used different narrative formats that allowed her to alternate between the present, 1936 and the past, 1918.  The story is told from a variety of perspectives; Ablilene’s first person narrative, letters from a World War I soldier, old news paper articles, and third person vignettes told by a “diviner” who retells  the past as if it were occurring in the present.  This story connects the actions of the past to the present and possibly the future.
Abilene is staying with Shady who was a bootlegging, part time preacher in this town.  She begins looking for clues towards her father’s past.  She finds a Lucky Bill cigar box that was filled with a map and some old letters that mentioned a local spy named “The Rattler.”  There were also some other mementos that didn’t appear to be connected to anything.
Abilene eventually made friends with Lettie and Ruthanne.    Abilene shares her spy map with the girls and their adventure begins.  They are looking for clues as they travel around town but they don’t know what they are looking for and are beginning to wonder if it is even worth their time.  When they return to Shady’s property there is a note:  “LEAVE WELL ENOUGH ALONE.”  Now they know they are on to something, but how will they figure it out?
Abilene had lost her compass, one of the only items she had to connect her to her father.  Abilene stumbles upon Miss Sadie, the diviner, as she was trying to get her compass back.  Abilene broke one of her pots and agreed to work to pay off the debt.  As she worked for Miss Sadie, Miss Sadie would begin to retell events from the past.  
There are many twists and turns throughout the book.  Learning about Abilene’s father’s character was quite predictable.  However, I was completely surprised by the Miss Sadie’s story and her connection with the compass.  What an amazing story about the love that she has for her child as, “She watches.  She waits.  She loves.”
Moon Over Manifest and One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia are both stories that deal with parents abandoning their children.   As a parent myself, I have a hard time connecting to these parents.  I can’t understand why the mother in One Crazy Summer just walked away.  Although, I must admit I have a little more compassion for the dad in Moon Over Manifest.  Maybe because his absence was temporary.  Although, Miss Sadie’s situation may be viewed as abandonment as well.  Her circumstances almost justify that she did the right thing.  What does that say about the power of love?  What does that say about her character?  What would you have done?


  1. I was also surprised about the Diviner's relationship to the story. It must have been so difficult for her to watch her son without being able to let him know who she really was. It was good that Sister Redempta kept her up-to-date with report cards and drawings so she felt she was a part of his life. I think she did what she needed to do, but it is sad knowing that Ned died without knowing who his mother was.

  2. Sometimes I wonder how well children would relate to this story. I can see were there might be some intenses that children have similar stories, but this one was multiple abandonments. I thought it was a little much. But, I enjoyed it and got something out of it. Maybe the teaching of apathy could go along with this story to children just reading for enjoyment.