Author: Kelly Barnhill
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 388 (hardcover)
Selected By: Elle Tea
Elle Tea’s Score:
“Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.
“One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule – but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it will be up to Luna to protect those who have protected her – even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she has always known.” – from the Goodreads summary.
Elle Tea’s Review
This book. You guys… this book. This brilliant, beautiful, delightful, heart-breaking, gloriously wonderful book!
That’s me now. Two days ago, I’d never heard of the author prior to reading this selection, and at a glance I thought, “Eh, I’ll try it – but it sounds awfully kiddy to me.”
“She needs to be educated. She needs to know the contents of those books, there. She needs to understand the movements of the stars and the origins of the universe and the requirements of kindness. She needs to know mathematics and poetry. She must ask questions. She must seek to understand. She must understand the laws of cause and effect and unintended consequences. She must learn compassion and curiosity and awe. All of these things. We have to instruct her. All three of us. It is a great responsibility.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with reading books marketed for children – some of the best books I’ve read as an adult were actually for kiddies – but what with the news of the world being as it has been for the past few months, I’ve just not been able to get into the whole fairy-tale mood. My mother sent me a text asking if I’d ever heard of this book, because the title and cover caught her eye and made her think it would be something I’d enjoy. I looked it up myself, agreed, made the purchase…
Knowledge is powerful, but it is a terrible power when it is hoarded and hidden.
And didn’t read it for two months. I’d look at it now and again in my list of books to read and think, “Maybe..?” Then the anxious and angry grown-up feelings would settle in again, and I’d flip past it in favor of historical nonfiction or gritty urban fantasy – or simply to stab things with knitting needles. But after BillMo’s more light-hearted selection last month, I dove straight into The Girl Who Drank the Moon…
And in those 380 or so pages, I felt all the feels. All of them. All at once.
“The stuff of stars. The stuff of light. The stuff of a planet before it is a planet. The stuff of a baby before it is born. The stuff of a seed before it is a sycamore. Everything you see is in the process of making or unmaking, dying or living. Everything is in a state of change.”
On the surface, this is a fairy-tale. And a book for children. Within these pages you will find magic and witches, dragons and monsters, cursed forests and boots that allow their wearer to travel great distances with very little effort. A boy will fall in love with a girl and she with him, a woman will lose her mind and find her power, and along the way everyone will learn a few lessons about the importance of friendship, the interconnection of all things, what defines a family, and, most importantly, that love endures and hope conquers all.
This was preferable for Glerk, who felt that violence, while sometimes necessary, was uncouth and uncivilized. Reason, beauty, poetry, and excellent conversation were his preferred tools for settling disputes.
What you won’t find is any indication that life is in any way fair. The Girl Who Drank the Moon is predominantly about causation and consequences, both good and bad. The foundation for our story was laid five-hundred years earlier, and all of the choices made by each character, no matter how small their part may seem, build upon it. Lies told for the right reasons have disastrous results. The refusal of the many to challenge the authority of a few costs them their most beloved treasures – which are then given to those not ruled by fear. Questions left unasked haunt the footsteps of an entire village, as well as the denizens of the forest. And with each rise there must be a fall; one generation grows in strength while the generations that came before diminish and fade into memory. With life comes death. With love, sorrow. With gain, loss.
There was a memory here. A beloved person. A loss. A flood of hope. A pit of despair. How many feelings can one heart hold? She looked at her grandmother. At her mother. At the man protecting his family. Infinite, Luna thought. The way the universe is infinite. It is light and dark and endless motion; it is space and time, and space within space, and time within time. And she knew: there is no limit to what the heart can carry.
It is also magnificently told in a narrative style that almost begs to be heard rather than read; I can’t even tell you how many times I read a passage and had to go back and re-read it aloud simply so I could turn the prose loose, the words fluttering around the room like one of the madwoman’s enchanted paper birds. Honestly, some of the passages were so beautifully articulated that they actually brought tears to my eyes.
“The heart is built of starlight. And time. A pinprick of longing lost in the dark. An unbroken chord linking the Infinite to the Infinite. My heart wishes upon your heart and the wish is granted. Meanwhile the world spins. Meanwhile the universe expands. Meanwhile the mystery of love reveals itself, again and again, in the mystery of you.”
All in all, this is a simply wonderful addition to any library or e-book collection. If you’re thinking of giving this to a child (let’s say anyone under the age of about eight), I’d recommend that you read it first as it does tackle some fairly weighty issues such as loss, death, and vengeance. I strongly recommend this to any of you who enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane or Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland series.
Perhaps she will find the Beast. Or become the Beast. Or become the Bog. Or become a Poem. Or become the world. They are all the same thing, you know.
I’m off to begin another fairy-tale style novel that caught my eye from this same author: The Witch’s Boy. But first… I’m going to look for my own Simply Enormous Dragon, especially now that I know there’s a very good chance that he can live in my sock drawer for at least a few years.
Elle read the Amazon Kindle version of this book. And fervently wishes Fyrian lived in her sock drawer.