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‘Moon Over Manifest’ Weaves History into a Feel-Good Story about Diversity and Home

By Annabel Justice, Reporter

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Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool, awarded a Newbery Medal for excellence in children’s literature, is an easy read, but the historically rich and heartfelt story is something that cannot be ignored.

Set in 1936 with a parallel plot line taking place in 1918, readers learn about the struggle of living life during the Great Depression, how World War I affected the United States, and the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918.

The educational value of the story is heavy and the history that is woven within the fictional characters and plot is ever-present, yet at the same time unnoticeable. Some of the best historical fiction books trick you into learning. In Moon Over Manifest, the reader never notices that they are sitting in history class, but are swept up in the story that happens in history.

The book starts off in 1936 Manifest, Kansas with 12- year-old Abilene Tucker, who is sent away to Manifest by her father, Gideon. Gideon feels that his job working on the railroad would be unfit for Abilene especially since her mother passed away. Abilene knows that Manifest had been her father’s childhood home, yet he hasn’t spoken much about it to her.

Her first day in Manifest, Abilene finds a note speaking of someone called the “rattler,” someone who she believes is a spy. She and two other girls that she has befriended, Lettie and Ruthanne, go on a spy hunt which leads Abilene to discover many secrets about Gideon’s past and the history of the diverse town.

Also, because of the spy hunt, she meets Mrs. Sadie, a diviner who Abilene helps complete chores for because of her knee injury and age. Mrs. Sadie often goes into random spells where she doesn’t tell the future like most fortune tellers, but she tells of the past.

It is through many of these stories told by Mrs. Sadie set in 1918, that lead Abilene to the truth of her father’s background. With these truths, Abilene is able to brighten up the once lively town and help her father overcome the real obstacles that forced him to send Abilene away to Manifest.

The complex characters of Abilene and Gideon really allow the reader to relate and be pulled into the story. However, the antagonists are a bit one-dimensional and obvious from the very beginning.

The story is also told from four points of view. The fun and feisty Abilene Tucker; Hattie Mae, the author of a local newspaper column; Ned Gillen, the writer behind letters that Abilene discovers; and Mrs. Sadie, the Hungarian fortune teller, are the story’s narrators. It is a lot of stutter-stop narration and switching back and forth between time periods that make the book seem choppy, somewhat confusing, and move a little slower.

However, overall it was a charming book with the feel of a classic. It is an easy read which the complex plot and history make up for. The educational value of the book is extremely high and the characters are fun and relatable. The book overall was a great, heartfelt story that imposes a feel-good message about diversity, confidence, and the concept of home.

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‘Moon Over Manifest’ Weaves History into a Feel-Good Story about Diversity and Home