Friday, February 4, 2011

Moon over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool

Abilene Tucker and her father, Gideon, have spent the last ten years on the move, never staying in the same place for long. Frequently they caught rides on freight trains, hopping on and off open boxcars, as many of the homeless did during the Depression. But as Abilene approaches adolescence and after she was injured jumping off a train, Gideon decides that this is not a proper way of life for a soon-to-be young woman. He sends her off to live in Manifest, Kansas with his friend, Shady Howard, with whom Gideon once lived as a boy. Shady is a part-time Baptist minister and part-time saloon keeper, somewhat paradoxical callings.

Abilene misses her father terribly and doesn't understand why he sent her off to live with Shady, but she does hope to find out more about his life as a young boy and about the time he spent in Manifest. She is soon caught up in small town life and an incredible cast of characters, including a very wise fortune teller, an omniscient Catholic nun/schoolteacher, a very creepy undertaker and a warm-hearted, folksy newspaper columnist, just to name a few.

In her search to find out more about her father, Abilene and her new friends, Ruthanna and Lettie, soon stumble on a mystery in Manifest's past, 18 years earlier, during World War I and the influenza epidemic of 1918. What happened to Ned and Jinx, who was the "Rattler", what is the strange grave in the woods and why will no one answer any of her questions about Gideon?

Abilene is an unforgettable character--spunky, but vulnerable and with a heart of gold. In her search for her past and her place in this world, she pulls the people of Manifest out of their inertia, as they help her finally find a place where she belongs. The book is a page turner, as it weaves its two plotlines, Abilene's story in 1936 and Ned and Jinx's story in 1917-1918, together.

Not since Sal, of Walk Two Moons, has the main character of a Newbery Award winner captured my imagination or stayed with me when the book was done like Abilene has. I rarely read books twice because there is just so much to read, but I will definitely read this book again. 2010

R. Rauch

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