Moon over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool

Sep 15, 2011

Moon over Manifest won the 2011 Newberry award. That was enough reason for me to read it, but I quite enjoyed it and want to offer a few more reasons.

It is set in Kansas. The town, Manifest, if fictional, but is based on family stories and memories of a real Kansas town that the author’s grandparents lived in. It’s set in both 1917 and 1936 – very interesting times, what with WWI and the Great Depression. It deals with overcoming hardship and finding your place in the world. These are broad themes, and therefore applicable to… everyone. I always enjoy stories about coming together in the face of difficulty, stories about growth and hope.

Best, it has original characters and sticky situations. Main character Abilene Tucker is 12-years-old in 1936, and she’s a hobo! She rides the rails and jumps train early so she can come up on a new town at her own pace and see it before it sees her. She stays with a mysterious speakeasy-owner-turned-preacher above an empty church that used to be a bar. She ends up indebted to the town’s psychic and diviner, Miss Sadie, and works in a dried up garden that Miss Sadie is convinced will soon flower – she’s psychic, so she would know, right? And that’s just the beginning.

The 1917 story line is delivered through “visions” that Miss Sadie has while Abilene works in her garden. They center on Ned Gillen and a boy named Jinx, who Abilene is sure is her father when he was her age. Jinx uses his unique skills of trouble-making to, well, cause trouble, but also to bring the town together in a really big way.

This book was written for a juvenile audience but it’s a fun and moving read for adults, too. You’ll like it if you enjoy juvenile, young adult, or 20th-century-historical fiction; if you’ve ever owned a speak easy that was later turned into a church; if you or your family comes from rural Kansas (or if you wish they did!). You’ll especially enjoy it if you are a young hobo.

Reviewed by Julie T.
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