The Girl Who Drank the Moon | Kelly Barnhill
Awards: Newbery Medal
There are always two sides to every story. On the one hand
the reader dives into the world of the Protectorate, snuggled between the Bog, the forest and the volcano, where the legend of a an evil witch demanding the sacrifice of the villages youngest infant each year keeps the people living under a fog of sorrow. Mystery and hidden memory surround the Day of Sacrifice. On the other hand, the reader learns the story of Xan, the witch, who saves the abandoned babies in the wood, feeding them starlight and giving them a new home across the forest in the Free Cities. The two sides of the same sad story have gone on for hundreds of years until one day Xan makes a mistake. One day, Xan feeds a baby moonlight, and changes her. Now Xan must raise baby Luna, and teach her how to control her magic, unveiling the baby girl’s own history alongside Xan’s own buried past, and the secret of the Protectorate.
Suggested Age Group: 10 and up
Child sacrifice. Loss of sanity due to grief. Child abandonment. Major Character death. One scene of physical violence. Magic and casting of spells.
The Girl Who Drank the Moon started with an amazing story concept, if a bit cliché. The evil council (why are councils always evil?), the child sacrifice, the defiance of the tradition by an onslaught of divergent free thinkers—all of these I put on the shelf and ignored for the sake of the plot. I tore through this book in three days, eager to finish. And when I finished, I felt puzzled. This book, though a decent read, did not leave me satisfied. Nor did it leave me hanging, robbed of a full and complete ending. Thinking through the story, I realized I did not emotionally connect the main characters in any way. It was quite a nice story but I did not care what happened to them in the end. I had no drive to finish the story, but nor was I repulsed by it.
My suspicions lead me to conclude that the characters, though well thought out and full of potential, remained emotionally flat because the reader is told what they are like, rather than being immersed in their reality. Think of a wide and deep and blue lake. You’re standing next to it, and someone says, “It’s hot outside. Gee, it’s hot. That water is wet and cold and would feel good because it’s water.” This is the age old mantra of the fiction writer: Show, don’t tell. This is the key to gripping stories. The Girl Who Drank the Moon has a fantastic plot line, and it has wonderful characters, but I never truly discovered them for myself. Thus, I did not feel any connection to their story. When the author does not trust me as a reader, I don’t trust the story. Without that trust, I cannot care.
For a Newbery Medal Winner, this book did not live up to the standard that such an award demands. It was an okay book, but not “the most distinguished contribution to literature for children” in 2017.