Newbery Project #3: 2011’s Moon Over Manifest

a moon-over-manifestMoon Over Manifest is I think maybe the picture many people get in their heads when they hear “Newbery Winner.” It’s an historical fiction story inside an historical fiction story that follows a plucky almost-orphan through her quest to find herself.

Do I sound jaded about it?

I think I might not actually get this book. I probably should have read it twice to be able to weigh in on it fairly, but this book is super long! Super long for a middle grade novel, anyway. If I’m going to keep up with my one-a-week pace, there’s no way I had time to read this twice.

This was not the first time I picked up this book. I checked it out of the library very soon after it won the Newbery 3 years ago. I trudged through the first half and then it was due back to the library and I returned it. The first bit is just soooooooo sloooooooowwwwwwww. There is an audience for these leisurely-paced narratives that take place in a simpler place in a simpler time. I am not the audience for these stories. 

This time around, as I made my way up to the point where I’d thrown in the towel before, I was having the same feelings. “What’s keeping me going through this? What is even happening right now? There are some people fishing and playing some pranks and looking for a ‘spy’ I don’t even think exists. What is at stake here? Why are there still 150 pages left?!”

After I broke through that middle part things started to pick up a little bit, and I read the last third much, much faster than the first two. I still wondered about the subject matter, though. The climactic scene in the 1918 narrative takes place at a land auction. This is a kids’ book and the biggest scene is about buying land!

Then there’s Abeline. I don’t think she’s really that well-developed as a character, and I don’t think she changes that much throughout the story. She gets to know her dad better over the course of the story, and therefore understand him better, but I don’t think that she changes, and if she doesn’t, then were are we?! The interesting characters are the supporting ones, but most of them don’t get to show much nuance, given that they’re supporting characters with only so much space on the page.

In the end, I just don’t think this book was my cup of tea.

Would kids like this? I know that kids exist who enjoyed this book, but honestly, I think the number of kids who did/will is MUCH MUCH smaller than many other books that win the Newbery. Major plot points revolve around land ownership, old people, and immigration. The pacing is slow. Most of the characters are adults. This is not something you hand to a reluctant reader by any stretch of the imagination.

Are there “funny bits”? A couple! It is not without humor, especially in the 1918 narrative’s Jinx character and his cons. Overall, it is very dry, though.

Should it have won? So, we’ve established that this book was not for me, but does that mean it isn’t good? The writing is descriptive in a pleasant, immersive way. Many characters are unique. The interweaving of the narratives is well-balanced and increasingly meaningful. Hundreds and hundreds of people on Goodreads vehemently disagree with my negative opinion of this book. I think the stilted character development and bloated page-count with bad pacing are enough to make a “no” vote from me.


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