Oh, my goodness, where do I begin with this book? The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill was the August book club selection at my local independent bookstore and it’s an amazing read.
Every year, the people of the Protectorate offer the youngest baby to the witch that lives in the forest, in order to keep her from terrorizing the town. But the people have it wrong, the witch that lives in the forest is actually a kind and benevolent soul who shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon.
Each year, Xan rescues the children from the circle of sycamores and takes them welcoming families on the other side of the forest in what they call “The Free Cities.” On this journey, Xan normally nourishes the babies with starlight, which contains diffused magic and awakens the best in the babies’ heart and mind.
However, one year, Xan makes a mistake and accidentally feeds the baby moonlight instead of starlight, and fills the child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides to raise the little girl, who she calls Luna, as her own, and as Luna’s thirteenth birthday approaches her magic begins to appear.
Meanwhile, a young man in the Protectorate is willing to risk everything to free his people by killing the witch, a madwoman is drawing maps in a tower, a volcano that has been dormant for centuries is awakening and a woman with a tiger’s heart and hunting instinct is on the prowl.
This is an almost 400-page children’s book that takes the form of an epic fairy-tale, and I am in love with it. To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure I would get into it from the first few chapters, but I almost didn’t want to finish reading it because I didn’t want it to end.
One of the things that I like about this book is that it doesn’t dumb anything down.
Barnhill’s writing style is beautiful and her descriptions are poignant, touching, and resonate really well. One of my favorite quotes from the book was about story and how stories can be skewed in certain ways:
A story can tell the truth…but a story can also lie. Stories can bend and twist and obfuscate. Controlling stories is power indeed. And who could benefit most from such a power?
When was the last time you saw the word obfuscate in a children’s book? (In case you’re curious, the dictionary definites “to obfuscate” as to render obscure, unclear, or unintelligible.)
But Barnhill’s use of language is only one way in which this book will challenge young readers. She’s created an interesting and varied cast of characters, which simply means: there are a lot of threads to track while reading this book. So concentration and memory is a factor, but all the stories are told in short, succinct chapters, so each storyline comes up very often.
These storylines do come together at the end in a really intense and beautiful way, which I love, and the winding story did hold my interest. Additionally, I really appreciated that Barnhill created fallible characters whose actions have consequences, and whose histories are informing their current choices. This has always been a big thing for me. If a character just does something out of the blue, no matter the genre, I am lost instantly. This is part of what happened with the last book club pick.
For example, you do see a common theme when it comes to dealing with magical children in this book. Some of Xan’s actions talk about binding or containing Luna’s powers, and you see all of these actions have consequences. You get this feeling that the adults in her life are fallible. At the same time, there’s also the fact that Xan feels like she’s forgotten something and that nags at her.
You also get that kind of character development with Antain in the Protectorate from the very first chapter, when he sees the baby being taken from its parents. You follow how that incident has shaped him for thirteen years.
Another thing that I really appreciated about this book was how most of the characters are female. I remember growing up and having a lot of books about boys going on adventures, and it was sort of refreshing to see this book about a girl, her grandmother, and her mother.
I want to say more about what I liked about this book, but I am worried that if I keep talking I will give away spoilers that I don’t intend to. So, I am going to leave my thoughts here, and say that if you are in the mood for a well-told magical fairy tale, this is definitely the book for you.
FINAL RATING: 5 Stars