Alabama Moon, by Watt Key published in 2006 by Farrar Straus Giroux
Wow. I liked this book. If you’re looking for a boy-book for a middle grade reader who likes wilderness survival, adventure, and high-stakes risks, read on.
Moon is a 10 year old boy living with his dad off the grid in Alabama.
His mom is dead; his dad is radically anti-government, wounded deep in his soul during the Vietnam War, fiercely determined to live off the land and teach his son the wilderness survival skills necessary to do the same.
But then the worst-case scenario occurs: Moon’s father dies, leaving Moon utterly on his own. His father’s last instructions were to stay clear of the government and make his way to Alaska where survivalists had room to live. You don’t need anybody else, his dad says.
Moon is physically equipped for life on his own. He’s a dead-eye shot with his rifle. He can track, trap, cook, build, find medicinal herbs, craft all the clothing he needs from hides and fur…but none of this prepares him for the intense loneliness he experiences without his dad.
His brief visit to the fellow at the closest general store puts the law on his tail. Moon manages to evade the authorities for awhile, but his eventual capture thrusts him into a world that’s completely foreign, a world his father has warned him about. This kid is as slippery as an eel, though, and it’s not long before he escapes.
Back in the forest, Moon wrestles with questions about his dad’s advice. Should he find his way to Alaska? Why did his dad choose this life? How can he endure such unbearable loneliness?
The pace of this story never lets up. Life-threatening injuries, scrappy fights, jails, mean-spirited constables, break-outs, flights through the wilderness, make this story fraught with tension. There is crushing sorrow here, and galling deceit. It’s also stocked with men who are variously gritty, feisty, power-crazed, hot-tempered, and cruel. There are a few good-hearted souls as well, but only one is the kind of fellow you usually meet at your local Starbucks.
Despite its toughness, the story also has tremendous warmth. Moon is a wiry, wily, tenacious, kid. On any Survivor episode, he’d win — at age 10! But for all that, he’s got a tender heart. Underneath the scabs, he recognizes that a life without any companionship is not one he cares to live. Whether he can achieve that — that’s the big question.
Apparently this has been made into a movie. I’ve not seen it but…I always recommend reading the book. The stills I saw make it look like the grittiness of the story had been smoothed out and tidied up a bit which would be disappointing.
You should be aware that profanity is used throughout. Watt Key is an excellent writer, and I recommend this for ages 11 through adult. A sequel to the book — Dirt Road Home — follows the path of one of the side characters.