Middle Grade Monday: The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill
Title: The Girl Who Drank the Moon
Author: Kelly Barnhill
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers, 2016. 388 pages.
Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.
One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule--but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her--even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.
This book wasn't what I expected from the blurb, and that's a good thing. I looked at it, and sort of thought it would be a typical children's fantasy, fun maybe but nothing special. In fact, the book is truly original, and maybe not a children's book at all. I'll have to think about that. But I know that once I started, it was hard to put down
The writing style is understated, at times almost reportorial, but at the same time there is an undercurrent of feeling so strong that you almost are the characters. Nor is young Luna the only main character. That young man from the Protectorate (who is really an adult, not a child at all, even in the beginning), plays a central role and we spend time with him, with a madwoman, with the ancient witch Xan, and even with Glerk and Fyrian. (We even get to see a bit into the heads of the bad guys). All of that might sound like it gets confusing, but it doesn't. It just makes the story full and rich.
So much of this story is about people just doing the best they can with the limited skills and knowledge they have--and that, to me, is what makes it a good children's book, even while I think it could quite well pass in the adult section of the library, too. For the latter, seeing how the evil and sorrow of the Protectorate is created (and later destroyed), provides a level of story interest beyond what a child might understand.
FTC Disclosure: I checked The Girl Who Drank the Moon out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."