I had just crossed the Illinois/Wisconsin state line, there was nothing worth listening to on the car radio with stations fading in and out faster than the speed limit, so I plotted my exit to the next Cracker Barrel for an audio book and, well, and a “pit” stop. There were plenty of books to choose from on a Wednesday morning, so I hemmed and hawed a bit when a young adult title caught my attention. This was the same Cracker Barrel where I discovered Penny from Heaven, so, heeding the good omen that seemed to be presenting itself, I plucked the book off of the cart, handed over my credit card, and went merrily on my way.
Moon Over Manifest. It sounded a bit like a Ben & Jerry flavor with fewer calories. I have been known to judge a book by its cover. I loaded up the CD player, merged back onto the interstate, and began listening to Clare Vanderpool’s Newberry award-winning book.
Moon Over Manifest is a charming, intriguing, witty story with a great deal of history about WWI and the Great Depression sprinkled in. It is deserving of a Newberry Honor.
Abilene and her father, Gideon, have been living a life of riding the rails, revival meeting meals, and poverty. After Abilene’s leg becomes infected from a scratch from a branch, Gideon sends her to Manifest, Kansas, where she is taken in by Shady, a long ago friend of Gideon’s. Shady is a one-time bootlegger turned temporary pastor who has a story and secrets of his own, and is kind and caring of Abilene and gives her a safe place to live – even if his morning biscuits are always slightly burnt.
Abilene attends the parochial school for the first time on the last day of school. She is given an assignment to write a story to bring to school at summer’s end. Abilene is certain she will no longer be in Manifest then. Surely, her father will come for her soon.
This books alternates between the summer of 1936 and the summer of 1918 and is a story of a hunt for clues and secrets and a child’s journey in finding out about her father and about herself. The hunt for clues begins when Abilene finds a cigar box hidden in her room. The box is filled with old letters, a map, and a spy called the Rattler.
The chapters of Moon Over Manifest alternate between the summer of 1936 and that of 1918. Much of 1918 is told by Sadie, an Hungarian gypsy who reads fortunes, and who gradually tells the story of two boys, Ned and Jinx, and what happens in 1918. Sadie has a few secrets of her own and of the town of Manifest, which is inhabited by many immigrants.
Vanderpool’s book is a bit of a mystery and a bit of history. In Moon Over Manifest, readers learn about life in the early 1900′s, of impending war, the Ku Klux Klan, mining, land rights, trench warfare and WWI, the influenza epidemic and the devastation of the Spanish Flu. We also learn of how these conditions and events had an effect that carried through into the 1930′s and of the itinerant life many led, including children, during the Great Depression. It is not just a book for young reader’s, however, but a well written and researched book for all.
I returned home the following Monday with Moon Over Manifest keeping me company all the way home. It was a wonderful company to steer me back to the Cutoff and its characters linger here still.