What the Moon Said by Gayle Rosengren
*ARC Provided by the author - Thanks, Gayle! Sorry it took me so long!*
Middle grade readers should get ready to be swept into the past in this debut novel by Gayle Rosengren. Esther is 9 - almost 10 - and growing up in 1930s Chicago when she gets the news: since Pa has lost his job, the family will be moving to a farm in Wisconsin with the hope that the future will be a bit brighter there. She is confident that living like pioneers and with animals will be an adventure, but the truth is, it's a lot of hard work. On top of all the changes is Ma and her never-ending superstitions from the Old Country about good and bad luck. Esther feels like no matter how hard she tries, she always makes Ma unhappy. When Ma demands that Esther do the unthinkable, the young girl is torn. Should she obey if it will make Esther miserable? And will Ma ever hug her and say she loves her?
Esther is a plucky, deep-feeling, and complex protagonist who I could easily throw my support behind. Rosengren does a phenominal job showing how kids back then really weren't so different from kids today. I loved the layers of this character - she doesn't always do the right thing, struggles with what the "right thing" even means, celebrates the highs, and is devistated by the lows. Seeing the world and her situation through her eyes was a treat.
Secondary characters enhance Esther's world, from her siblings, her new pet dog, her new best friend, and even her teacher. My only troubles with this book, perhaps unsurprisingly, is Ma. Esther's deepest wish is for her mother to show her even the smallest crumb of affection and to say that she loves her. Ma seems to like Esther's siblings well enough, but why not Esther? Of course the message of the story - love isn't just about words, but actions - necessitates that Ma cannot be the touchy-feely type, but her unwavering coldness did hurt. Were I a younger reader, it very well could have been a bit too much emotionally and made me put the book down, but I stuck it out and understood the effect Rosengren was aiming to achieve.
It is to be expected that a novel taking place in the Great Depression be tinged with sadness nor get a completely happy ending, but the tale in What the Moon Said is realistic and, for that reason, satisfying. If you have any Little House fans in your life, chances are, Esther's well-written story will be a hit with them.
Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!
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