Laurinda’s Rating: 3.75/5
The 2011 Newbery Medal Winner, Moon Over Manifest, tells the story of a girl sent away to a small town in Kansas as she unravels her father’s past history with the town. The main narrative is set during the Great Depression, with the stories and letters about the past set during WWI.
Abilene grew up drifting from place to place with her dad. When he gets work with the railroad, he decides that Abilene should stay in the town of Manifest with his friend Shady for the summer. Abilene rolls into town slightly hurt by her father’s choice; however, she’s a resilient kid, used to making friends with new people. While looking for a place to stash her own valuables, she comes across a set of letters and mementos tucked under the floor boards of her room. Along with the stories told by Miss Sadie, the town “diviner”, the mementos suck Abilene and her new friends into the story of Manifest’s past and its varied characters.
In the 1910’s, an abusive mine owner and his goons controlled much of the town. When they realize that the seam of control runs under the property of a woman who recently died, they will do anything necessary to acquire it. Jinx, an orphan running from a false murder charge, and Ned, an orphan adopted by a townsperson long ago, are the unlikely saviors. Jinx cooks up a scheme to sell a remedy (half booze, half medicine). With that, and some legal maneuvering, the town makes enough money to buy the land and force the mine owners to change working conditions. Jinx, courtesy of a bullet wound and fake funeral, also wins his freedom from the murder charge. However, Ned uses the money from a different scheme to enlist in the war and never comes back, which Jinx blames himself for. Thus, he still feels that his nickname is true, and when Abilene gets hurt he ships her far away.
Although the book gets off to a slow start, the pace picks up. Even though, as adults, it’s pretty easy to guess some of the major emotional plot points (Spoiler alert: semi-important characters that march off to WWI, especially without a love interest, are prone to death), the author still fashions the narrative to create an emotional impact. The past’s tragedy resolves into hope for the future when Abilene’s dad comes to make a life with her again after she feared he had abandoned her.
This will appeal to those who like a mystery as well as a historical setting. There’s not much that is objectionable for younger readers, but the story will have a greater impact with older readers.