1995: Walk Two Moons (Layers of Life)

VERDICT: Treasure

Laurinda’s Rating: 4/5

Walk Two Moons, the 1995 Newbery Medal Winner, is a journey of discovery wherein a girl dealing with her mother’s abandonment comes to grip with it. The author, Sharon Creech, nests two narratives together. The “outer” story chronicles Sal’s road trip to Idaho with her grandparents to see her mother. They follow a similar route to that which her mother took, documented by the numerous postcards Sal received. The “inner” story is one Sal tells to her grandparents; it focuses on her friend Phoebe, whose mother also briefly abandons her. The intertwining themes between the two are masterfully handled. Sal sees Phoebe’s situation much more clearly than her own but makes the connection between the two, acknowledging that she engaged in some of the “bratty”/negative behaviours which annoy her when Phoebe uses them.

The book’s greatest strength is its characterization. Each character, no matter how minor, is interesting and well developed. You get a sense of their personality, not just their actions. Gran and Gramps are pretty hilarious grandparents, interested in exploring. As they passed through some locations with which I’m very familiar, particularly Madison, WI, I greatly enjoyed their descriptions and experiences. Sal, although scarred by her mother’s disappearance,

Creech manages a somewhat unexpected plot twist towards the end of the book. Throughout most of the book, the reader is given the impression that Sal and her grandparents are going to visit her living mother. However, when Gran falls ill and Sal takes the car to where her mother is, we find out that her mother died in a fiery bus crash. Sal knew this all along and the trip was basically to allow Sal to say goodbye to her mother.

The book is imbued with so many examples of basic human decency. From the cops that take Sal to see her mother’s grave site rather than arresting her for driving without a license to the old lady who leaves inspirational messages for the neighbours because she thinks they’d like them (though it takes them a while to figure out who is leaving them), Creech shows us how people can care for one another. She also includes a fair number of questionable choices (Phoebe deciding they needed to break in to the neighbour’s house, etc.); these prevent the book from seeming overly saccharine.

Walk Two Moons is immensely readable and well constructed on all levels. I highly recommend this for late elementary and middle school readers. It may be particularly poignant for those who have lost a parent, but it touches on so many other issues that most kids should find something of interest.

 

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