The Girl Who Drank the Moon…a rich fantasy George Orwell would have loved!

the girl who drank the moon cover imageThe Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill
published by Algonquin Young Readers

Minnesota-author Kelly Barnhill has come out with another powerful middle-grade fantasy starring a short, bustling witch named Xan, Glerk the swamp monster, and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon. There’s magic-aplenty in her story, not the least of which is how quickly these three will wrap themselves around your heart and cinch you into their lives, troubles, and urgent endeavors.

Life in the forest utterly changes when a small girl named Luna isb9257400000a53a1f306144045d4483b folded into this trio’s company. Rescued as an infant by Xan, Luna takes a mighty slurp of moonlight and becomes enmagicked. Oops. There’s nothing for it but to raise her as their own. But an enmagicked child, as you might guess, is quite tricky to raise. Gobs more potential for disaster than with your ordinary, mischief-making toddler!

Luna needed rescuing because of the cold, cruel practice of the Protectorate: every year the elders mercilessly abandon a child as a peace-offering to the witch of the forest. Xan, unbeknownst to them, makes a habit of rescuing those babies. Eventually, a young man rises up with a brave plan to put an end to all this unspeakable sorrow and death. By killing Xan.

Barnhill’s impeccable writing makes for effortless reading, while she spins her plot with perfect pacing. Packed within the story are some tremendously thought-provoking themes which elevate this quite beyond an ordinary fantasy and make it a superb choice for a middle-grade-and-older book club.

origami birdsAppearances are not what they seem. Behind the labels we place on people, quite the opposite character might lie. The hag might be good, and the councilmen evil. The weak might be strong, and the powerful, weak. Ugliness might mask beauty.

A great deal of commentary on governance also runs through the narrative, commentary I think George Orwell would have welcomed. The rulers of the Protectorate — an ironic name if there ever was one — control the populace through fear, lies, and oppression. They brook no questions or dissent. Those who control the narrative, wield the power, so it becomes critical to utterly control the narrative. And in their power, these gluttons and cowards refuse to actually protect the weak. Instead, they feed onSumatran-Tiger-Hero them. Ordinary citizens are chained to despair through ignorance and fear.

That’s the dark side. The moonlit side of the story is that love and self-sacrifice open the way, empower, restore. It’s a treacherous road to get there, but an incredibly satisfying one.

386 pages. Ages 11 through adult. Great book to hand a fan of fantasy, but I read little fantasy and thoroughly enjoyed this so don’t simply skip it if that’s not normally your genre of choice. I predict this will garner some awards.