The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Sometimes you read an award-winning book and you think, Hmm. Sometimes you think, Good choice. And then you read one and say to yourself, Of course; how could this book have ever been denied? That last category is where I’d put The Girl Who Drank the Moon. All the components of story and storytelling–characters, conflict, narration, pacing, insight, universality, voice, style, etc.–come together in a tale that engages and impresses from the first page on.

So the fact that the book won the Newbery isn’t a surprise; anything less would have been. The surprise (to me, at least, because somehow I’ve managed to overlook Kelly Barnhill’s other books) is that she ignored some of kidlit’s most ingrained conventions and did it so successfully that she might just explode the whole world of writing shoulds and musts and other imperatives. Her writing soars above all those “truths” about sticking to one point-of-view character (or if you get really crazy, maybe two or three) and avoiding omniscient narratives and author intrusions and certainly never allowing an adult point of view to make even a brief appearance and for sure never ever over the whole course of a story. And middle-grade novels shouldn’t get into controversial stuff like witches and magic and philosophical musings about life and death and human nature and humanity and evil and what is the essence of life, and remember to keep that word count under 50,000.

I’m not saying that these writing-for-kids conventions should be ignored. I’m sure Kelly Barnhill is well aware of them. But her writing prowess enabled her to recognize them for what they are–guidelines–and then tell her story with a level of seamless, poetic richness that wouldn’t have been possible if she’d allowed herself and her imagination to stay within the constraints of by-the-book dictates of what “has” to be done if you’re going to write for kids.

So if you like thought-provoking stories, masterfully told, read this one. Ignore the “kids” label. The Girl Who Drank the Moon doesn’t cater to labels. It caters to readers.

(Review on Goodreads)

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