Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Girl Who Drank the Moon - Kelly Barnhill

Title: The Girl Who Drank the Moon
Author: Kelly Barnhill
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers, 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 386 pages
Genre: Children's/Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: October 17, 2016
Finished: October 20, 2016

From the inside cover:

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. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon. Xan rescues the 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 girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. As Luna's thirteenth birthday approaches, her magic begins to emerge - with dangerous consequences. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Deadly birds with uncertain intentions flock nearby. A volcano, quiet for centuries, rumbles just beneath the earth's surface. And the woman with the Tiger's heart is on the prowl.

The author of the highly acclaimed award-winning novel The Witch's Boy has written an epic coming-of-age fairy tale destined to become a modern classic.

After reading Iron-Hearted Violet and The Witch's Boy and loving this author's style, picking up her new book wasn't even a question.

The Elders of the Protectorate created the idea of a witch that demands a child in sacrifice once a year to keep the citizen in line (there's an even deeper reason for this, but can't explain due to spoilers). But little do they know, the children they abandon in the woods don't die, they are rescued by Xan, a real witch (but a nice one) and adopted by loving families in the Free Cities on the other side of the forest, where the citizens of the Protectorate do not venture. We follow Antain, a young Elder-in-training who witnesses his first Day of Sacrifice, and is deeply disturbed by it. Xan rescues the baby and is entranced by her hair, eyes, and the crescent moon birthmark on her forehead (that she shares with her mother). Distracted, she feeds the baby moonlight instead of starlight, giving her incredible magic that lies dormant. So instead of delivering another one of the Star Children to the Free Cities, she adopts Luna and raises her as her granddaughter. When Luna's magic begins to awaken at age five, Xan manages to seal it away until the time Luna will turn thirteen, but at a cost: Xan will slowly deteriorate and lose her life when Luna's magic awakens again. Over the years, we see Antain grow and question the Elders and the Sisters of the Star, we see Luna's mother lose herself to grief and become imprisoned in the Tower by the Sisters. Xan tries to teach Luna all she needs to know before her thirteenth birthday, while being aided by Glerk the swamp monster and Fyrian the little dragon. And Luna grows with no idea of who she really is.

This story has the author's trademark writing style and magical realism embedded in it, making it an engrossing read that pulls you in from the first sentence. The characters are engaging and sympathetic; I simply loved little Fyrian, he's adorable in his excitability. The perspectives and plot threads all come together in the end in a satisfying way, though the plot does drag a little at the end in the act of everyone coming together. The darker undertones and themes are a bit depressing for a middle grade book, but I'd imagine young adult readers would actually appreciate that.

A wonderfully written book that is engrossing and is a must-read, especially if you are a fan of magical realism in your literature.

Thoughts on the cover:
This is so gorgeous, I'd pick it up for the cover alone. I love Luna against the moonlight with a pose we never see on cover art, and the paper birds and Fyrian are nice additions.

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