Friday, July 1, 2011
Moon Over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool 
My Rating: 5.5/10
Quick Summary: In 1936, Abilene Tucker is sent to to Manifest, Kansas to stay with an old friend of her father's, while he is away working on a railroad. She begins investigating the past (complete with flashbacks), and getting to know the history of the town and its people, and thus, better getting to know her father and herself.
Imagine if you took To Kill a Mockingbird and Jellicoe Road, stirred them together, and set them in Depression-era Kansas. With this recipe, you'd pretty much get Moon Over Manifest, the Newbery Medal book for 2011.
I think I put this book down at least four times before I got through the first couple chapters. To be fair, I was rather distracted by other things, but it just didn't really reach out and grab me. Once I got a couple chapters in, I started enjoying myself, but then I hit the halfway point, and realized just how long this book was (368 pages). Considering the target age group, this is a bit excessive. Part of the problem was the fact that there are two narratives, the story set in the "present" of 1936, and then that set in the past of 1918. I think the author overreached herself in scope, and it left her with a flawed book. This story should have either been far shorter or much longer. As it was, I felt like we never really got to know the main character, Abilene, because there were too many other characters and too much else going on.
It was hard to follow all of the various townspeople of both narratives, because very few of them were given fully fledged personalities (or anything to keep them memorable). And in the end, I felt like there were a lot of questions left unanswered, and plot points left dangling.
This is not to say the book was unpleasant. It was well researched, it had a good sense of place, and there were some sweet scenes. But I'm not sure I would have liked it when I was young- the elements that brought me pleasure were all definitely things that appeal to my adult self.