What the Moon Said (Book Review)

What the Moon Said (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you loved Sweet Home Alaska or any of the Little House books.

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

What the Moon Said

By Gayle Rosengren

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

How will 10-year-old Esther survive now that her family must move from the city to a farm due to the Great Depression?

What a sweet, heartfelt book! I read it in just over a day, and it’s perfect for kids who love pioneer or homesteading books.
It’s the Great Depression, and we see one year in the life of 10-year-old Esther. All she wants is to earn her mother’s love. Her Russian immigrant mom is exacting and superstitious. She scolds easily, worries constantly, and hugs not at all. What can Esther do to make Ma love her?

When Esther’s dad loses his job in Chicago, the family moves to a Wisconsin farm to try country life. How will Esther adjust?

This story has two strong journeys: the outer journey: Will the family make it on the farm? And the inner journey: Will Esther at long last receive her mother’s love? This makes it a simple yet layered growing-up tale.

It is a sweet story, with lots of emotion. I got teary-eyed a few times. I appreciate how the book doesn’t villainize the city or the country. I also love how there is a faith element. The family prays and goes to church. Ma and Pa also carry a lot of superstitions from the Old Country, and it’s interesting to see how that’s handled.

The reading level is low, so younger kids should be able to tackle it. The plot touches on many universal “kid dilemmas” that anyone can relate to, and it also opens a window to a distinct time in history and how people lived back then.

I got this book recommendation from this list of page-turners.

Content warnings: Nothing graphic or overly scary. However, one character has a medical emergency that requires hospitalization. One character chokes on food.

4.6
The Luminous Life of Lucy Landry (Book Review)

The Luminous Life of Lucy Landry (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you’re craving a short middle-grade book that feels like L. M. Montgomery

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The Luminous Life of Lucy Landry

By Anna Rose Johnson

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

An awkward orphan girl is adopted by a big family who lives on a tiny lighthouse island

What a delightful story. Like Anna Rose Johnson’s debut, this book has that classic, vintage feel. What’s more, Lucy Landry is Anne Shirley reincarnated. She’s dreamy and inattentive, but it’s obvious that her behavior is a coping mechanism, and so, even though she makes us cringe, we FEEL for her.

This is one of those stories where the young protagonist is plopped into a completely new life. Think Sara Crewe, Mary Lennox, and, of course, Anne. Lucy Landry has lived primarily alone with an elderly caretaker. When she’s adopted by a couple with six children who live on a tiny lighthouse island, she’s utterly unprepared for the chaos and conflict. I’m glad that the author didn’t shy away from this conflict. It was HARD for Lucy to fit in, and this constant tension made the story interesting.

I loved the mystery of the long-lost necklace that’s woven through the story. While this is a subplot and not the point of the book, it adds a layer of interest to liven up the main plot, which is Lucy’s transformation. Plus, finding the lost necklace gives Lucy a goal and deepens her connection to her past.

This book is short and easy to read. It’ll appeal to kids (and adults) who want a quick win.

Also, Lucy deals with some debilitating fear. Since so many kids struggle with fears, this is another touchpoint that will appeal to anxious kids without triggering them (I think).

And a huge WOO-HOO to the depiction of a homeschooling family. This is rare! (But spilling stuff all over our school supplies is, sadly, not. Haha.)

Thank you to NetGalley and Holiday House for a digital ARC of this novel.

Content warnings: Lucy is afraid of sailing on the water. The book shows her getting anxious about the prospect of (and the reality of) getting on a boat. She and one other character freeze up in panic, but it’s not depicted as a detailed panic attack. Mentioning this just in case it’s relevant for your youngster.

4.5
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (Book Review)

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you’re intrigued by an angsty, chaotic version of To Kill a Mockingbird

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

By Carson McCullers

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

The allure of a gorgeous title…

This book has been on my radar for a while simply due to the title. That title. I didn’t realize the phrase comes from a poem by William Sharp (Fiona MacLeod): “Deep in the heart of Summer, sweet is life to me still, But my heart is a lonely hunter that hunts on a lonely hill.” That’s something right there.

This book is something, too. But, in many ways, it’s a mess. This is one of those beautifully written, literary books that gives you a lot to think about, that stirs your emotions—but that also feels like a bucket of odds and ends that the author shakes, and it’s noisy and interesting, but we’re not sure exactly what it all means.

The book is not what I’d call entertaining. Not in the same way that To Kill a Mockingbird is entertaining, apart from everything else it brings to the table.

I’m perplexed by the paradox of this book. On the one hand, there are strong themes that you don’t have to be an English major to sniff out. But there’s a striking lack of coherence. Again, like a bucket filled with objects that clearly symbolize certain things, but they’re just crashing around in the bucket, and what does it mean at the end of the day?

As the title suggests, this book explores the theme of loneliness. John Singer is a deaf mute living in an ordinary mill town in Georgia. He’s the hub of the story. He attracts the other four main characters to him. These people pay separate but regular visits to Singer because they like to talk with him—or TO him. They believe he understands them. They’re lonely and desperate to offload their thoughts, feelings, dreams, and convictions on another human being and be understood. But, we know, through the narrator, that Singer doesn’t actually understand them. They just think he does. And they rely on him to listen. They imagine him to be who they want him to be.

Each of the four supporting characters represents different parts of American society. Mick represents the poor whites (she’s also young and coming of age). Dr. Copeland represents the “Negro race” as he puts it. Biff represents the establishment—capitalist, white working man. Blount represents the communist malcontent. The book is described as a parable because each of these characters is representative of larger ideas and societal problems.

Mick stands out as, by far, the most sympathetic and sweet, followed closely by Biff, who is thoughtful, fair, and observant. I love when Mick describes her “inside room.” It’s the inner space where she can dream and be creative. She dreams of learning music and composing songs, and she even tries her hand at writing some songs. But she doesn’t share this dream with anyone. It’s her own “inside” secret that she cherishes. The second-to-last chapter when she describes how, after a long day’s work at the mercantile, she cannot manage to get into the inside room anymore—that’s heartbreaking.

Portia’s good-faith attempts to make peace with her father are exquisitely written. Blount and Copeland’s rage-fest where they’re agreeing but disagreeing—it was perfectly rendered. There’s so much here, but it felt very meandering, like you’re not sure exactly where the story is.

I did not love this book. It was a slog. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot that will stay with me.

3.9
The Breeder Cycle (Book Series Review)

The Breeder Cycle (Book Series Review)

You’ll love it if
you wish you could reread The Hunger Games for the first time

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The Breeder Cycle (Breeder, Criminal, Clone)

By K. B. Hoyle

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Here’s a YA dystopia that isn’t bleak

Wow. I inhaled this trilogy, and I’m very picky when it comes to my teen dystopias. This series has a lot in common with The Hunger Games, but it’s much less depressing. In fact, it is incredibly life-affirming. But it’s most definitely for teens—no younger.

So, we’ve got a strong female lead, who lives in a futuristic society that’s tried to rid the world of inequality by making people the same—as “same” as they can get them. All aspects of life are controlled by the powers that be. Our young, female protagonist works as a Breeder. Her job is to birth babies for the new world. You already recognize a slew of elements from other popular YA books, right?

Well, something happens to our main character, Pria. She begins to feel discontented with her “perfect” life. She begins to ask questions—gasp! This puts her in danger, and she must face the truth about her society and the role she plays within it.

The strength of this series is the plot and pacing. It’s tight and effortless to read. There is a satisfying character-driven B plot.

Honestly, if you’ve got a thing for YA dystopia, this series is a really great choice!

4
The Road (Book Review)

The Road (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you’ve got the nerve for an intimate and lyrical dystopia

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The Road

By Cormac McCarthy

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Where do you go when the world ends?

The most astonishing thing about this reading experience is that I consumed this novel almost entirely at night, in the dark, right before bed. For someone who scares easily, I’m mighty proud of myself.

A man and his boy (never named) are trying to survive after a cataclysmic civilization-ending event (never explained), and they spend the novel dodging bad guys (cannibals) and figuring out how to not starve or sicken to death.

This book asks the question: Can we still be good even when everything around us is bad? Having just finished reading a lot of fairy tales, this question is not unfamiliar. Fairy tales ask this question over and over. Under what circumstances, under what pressure, do we compromise our integrity, stretch the bounds of morality, allow anger to rage, and succumb to despair?

The boy repeatedly asks his father, “We’re still the good guys, right?” Since they’re barely clinging to the bottom rung of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (basic survival) and there’s nothing higher to live for or aspire to…it’s important to the boy that they’re “good guys.” This is all the boy can hope for in life beyond simply existing. Which begs the question: Are people born with an innate sense of right and wrong? I believe so.

The Road is a journey with no destination. There’s no safe harbor for the characters to aim for. Every time they stumble upon a good place, they can’t stay long. Someone might find them. There’s always this sense of impending tragedy. Every time the man left the boy somewhere, I had to quickly skim ahead just to make sure he was okay.

The book also asks “What’s the point of continuing to live?” These characters live in a world that’s bad beyond anything that I’ve ever experienced. Why not just give up and find a peaceful place to starve or freeze to death? I’m glad that this book takes a life-affirming approach, for all its bleakness.

4.8