The movement of the train rocked me like a lullaby. I closed my eyes to the dusty countryside and imagined the sign I knew only from stories. The one just outside of town with big blue letters: MANIFEST: A TOWN WITH A RICH PAST AND A BRIGHT FUTURE.
...The conductor came into the car. "Manifest, next stop."
...Being a paying customer this time, with a full-fledged ticket, I didn't have to jump off, and I knew that the preacher would be waiting for me. But as anyone worth his salt knows, it's best to get a look at a place before it gets a look at you...
At the last car, I waited, listen the way I'd been taught--wait till the clack of the train wheels slows to the rhythm of your heartbeat...The ground came quick and hard, but I landed and rolled as the tain lumbered on without a thank-you or goodbye.
As I stood and brushed myself off, there was the sign not five feet in front of me. It was so weathered there was hardly a chip of blue paint to be found. And it looked to have been shot up so bad most of the words were gone. All that was left read MANIFEST: A TOWN WITH A PAST.
(Moon Over Manifest 1, 3-4)
Abilene Tucker doesn't really know who she is or where she's going. Her father, Gideon Tucker, has decided that jumping trains is no place for a young lady and sent her to life with Shady Howard, the pastor of a small town Gideon lived in as a teen.
Once she's in Manifest, Abilene meets many strange people with interesting characteristics. At first she thinks that she's going to be fine in this new place because every town is made of "universals"-- types of people who you'll always meet in a large group.
But the town of Manifest and it's townspeople aren't one bit universal. There's some strange things in this town. There's Hattie Mae--the newspaper lady--and her weekly "whos, whats, whys, whens, and wheres." There's Sister Redempta, the nun who teaches the town's school and acts as the town midwife. There's Lettie and Ruthanne, two girls who are friendly to Abilene and accompany her on her adventures to discover who "the Rattler" is and whether he still wants revenge. There's Ivan DeVore, the postmaster, Mr. Cooper, the barber, Velma T, the chemistry teacher, and Mr. Underhill, the undertaker. But that's just the beginning...
There's also Miss Sadie, the Hungarian Woman, whom everyone calls a diviner, and her intriguing stories about Jinx and Ned and times past. Her stories begin to pull the present together into a clearer picture, and over time, just might answer some of Abilene's questions concerning her origins.
Released on October 12, 2010 by Delacorte Press (a division of Random House), Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool is the 2011 winner of the well-known Newberry Award. The book is excellently written, with alternating chapters between the Manifest of 1918 and the Manifest of 1936. Interspersed between the chapters are excerpts from Hattie Mae's newspaper column which add a bit of authenticity to the story.
The biggest literary flaw with this book is its pace. As an adult, I enjoyed the pace of the book, but the first couple of chapters might be hard for a child to get into. Other than that, I found its literary quality to be worth the Newberry title. Vanderpool includes some great expressions that made me laugh and think all at once.
Pros about Moon Over Manifest:
--The author does an excellent job of switching between narratives throughout the book, never making the reader feel that the transition is "out of place."
--There are several pieces of the conclusion that come as a surprise to the reader, but none of the surprises stray from the plot.
--The author included a post-script about what was historical and what was fiction. She based the story loosely on her family's history.
--The author's tale can appeal to many teen and adult readers as well.
--The storyline contains several layers of suspense and challenges readers to look beyond the words on the page into the character's personalities, struggles, hopes, and fears just like readers have to look beyond a person's outer appearance to appreciate them.
--The characters have depth.
Despite all of these wonderful literary elements that make this book scholastic, there are several elements that have a tendency to make it not "safe" or family friendly. While all parents may not agree with my conclusion, I still wish to provide those who do with my reasons. If Moon Over Manifest was made into a movie, it would have to be rated PG-13 because of spiritual, alcohol, and violence content.
Cons about Moon Over Manifest:
--Miss Sadie is a diviner. In the beginning of the books, she "talks to the spirits" and says that she is going to "build a bridge between the living and the dead." However, by the end of the book, readers learn that Miss Sadie is only a diviner because no one would talk to a poor Hungarian woman that they perceived to be a diviner. They came to her as if she was such, and she went along with it to have her place in society; she "puts on a show and dresses the part." Abilene realizes that the "divining" that she gives them is "really the truth she observes and knows about them... And mostly she watches, she waits, and she loves... She bears the story of Manifest." However, as the divining has no explanation for the majority of the text, parents may wish to remove this from their child's reading list or discuss what divining is and how that fits in with their own religious beliefs.
--Shady Howard, the fill-in pastor in the town, is just that--a bit shady. He owns a bar. The church meets in the bar, but no alcohol is served on Sundays. Abilene lives in the room above the bar--no place for a child. Shady is also involved in making Moonshine during Prohibition--sometimes this is presented as wrong since it's against the law and sometimes it is presented as okay because it helps the town's economy. The town's sheriff requires that Shady give him two bottles of moonshine a week if Shady wants him to not tell the government about his illegal activity.
--There is a murder in the 1918 section of the book, for which one of the main characters (who is a child) is supposedly responsible. Truth does come out, and the real murderer is punished, but younger children may find this distressing.
Despite the fact that I could give Moon Over Manifest a five out of five stars for literary quality, I'm giving Moon Over Manifest a three out of five stars because of some of the questionable content for the age group. This is not a book that I plan on handing over to the children in my life because of the PG13 content. However, whether you as a parent choose to have your children read Moon Over Manifest as summer reading, discuss it as a family read-aloud, or be aware of it's contents when your child reads it for school sometime, I hope that this review helps you and your children make wise choices that are safe but scholastic.