Book Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon

girl who drank the moonThe Girl Who Drank the Moon
by Kelly Barnhill
YA Fantasy
388 pages
Published 2016

I adore this cover. It was what first caught my eye when people started talking about this book, and then to find out it was a fairytale about a girl, a witch, and a dragon? I was sold. The trouble was getting my hands on it! But it has finally worked its way through the long line of other people who wanted to read it at my library, and I got to check it out. I’ve labeled it YA Fantasy, but it’s actually pretty close to middle-grade Fantasy. Definitely something younger readers could understand, but enough meat in it for older readers who like fairy tales to enjoy it as well.

I would argue that the main character is not, in fact, the titular one, but the forest witch, Xan. Xan has been rescuing the babies left outside the Protectorate for many, many years, thinking the parents were abandoning them willfully, not that they were bullied into “sacrificing” wanted children. She’d cluck, take the babies, and deliver them to towns on the other side of the forest, where the villagers knew and loved her and cherished the children, calling them blessed and Star-Children. Meanwhile, the people of the Protectorate lived their days under a gray haze of misery, ruled by a Council who cared only for themselves and used Xan and the forest as a scare tactic.

Into this world Luna is born, and her mother refuses to give her up to be sacrificed, and goes “mad” when she is forced to. She is imprisoned in a tower, watched by fearsome nuns, while the oblivious Xan spirits her daughter away. On the journey, Xan winds up wandering instead of going straight to a village, and accidentally feeds Luna moonlight instead of starlight. Realizing the girl would be too much for a normal family to raise, she takes her home. (She also can’t bear the thought of giving this particular child up.) She raises Luna as a granddaughter.

But Luna’s mother wants her back, and some of the people of the Protectorate have started to wise up to the Council’s games, and the plot really begins.

I really enjoyed this book – the characters were fun, the emotional conflicts were realistic, and the world-building was cute. This would actually be an excellent book to read to a child as a bedtime story, one chapter a night. (My parents read to us that way, working through Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Chronicles of Narnia, Tolkien, and Anne of Green Gables.) Adorable book, gorgeous cover. Slightly simplistic, but it strikes a perfect balance between a middle-grade read and something adults will still enjoy.

From the cover of The Girl Who Drank the Moon:

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 be a modern classic.

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