Thursday, March 29, 2012

Review: Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Stories. Every day we tell each other stories. We read them, listen to them and share them with others. Stories take many forms: people “catching up,” movies and T.V. shows, music, video games, dirty footprints in the house and, of course, books. Rich in its layers, Moon Over Manifest shows how we are our histories and all our stories are connected.

Can you ever really understand a person or even a place until you know its story?

Abilene and her father, Gideon,  lived the life of hobos, hopping on and off trains until he found work. But now Abilene is too old to be drifting. So, Gideon sends Abilene to stay in Manifest, Kansas with people he knew long ago...

Abilene is looking for stories: a hidden box, with letters and trinkets, reveals a story central to who the townspeople of Manifest are; the story of the Ratler, an unknown townsperson acting as a spy, that Abilene and her friends try to reveal; Miss Sadie the diviner has stories to tell if only someone will listen. Abilene knows these stories are important but the story she most wants to hear is the story of her father who once lived in Manifest. What kind of person is her father? Why did he send her away to live with strangers? Is he coming back for her?

Moon Over Manifest reminds me of the movie Fried Green Tomatos (one of my all-time favorites) in a couple ways. Like the movie, the story is set in the Depression Area. Moon Over Manifest also shifts between the past (in the letters and through Miss Sadie’s stories) and the present as (Abilene narrates her experience in Manifest). The flashbacks take us to the town of Manifest during World War One while Abilene’s story takes place in Manifest during the 1930s. This switching technique worked well and I loved the flashbacks.

Stories are central to the human experience. We can’t always remember raw facts and data. But we can remember stories. They evoke emotion, sympathy and empathy. Stories explain the facts and help us make sense of them. Stories help us remember and help us share memories. Remember when dad did.... Remember when your sister... We’ve all heard stories like these, haven’t we? Stories bind us together and so we tell them over and over.

Stories connect people and I think that’s what Moon Over Manifest shows. No matter how different the townspeople are, no matter their country of origin, their wealth or social class, age or gender, everyone's stories are connected.

While marketed as a children’s book, Moon Over Manifest is nuanced and Vanderpool is an excellent writer. The prose is enjoyable as are the many characters. Adults as well as children will appreciate this work. I highly recommend it!

Publisher: Yearling, 2011 (paperback copy)     Pages: 351
Rating: 5 Stars     Source: purchased copy

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