“There is magic in starlight, of course. This is well known. But because the light travels such a long distance, the magic in it is fragile and diffused, stretched into the most delicate of threads. . . Moonlight, however. That is a different story. Moonlight is magic,” (The Girl Who Drank the Moon, pg 25).
Similar to moonlight, The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill doesn’t simply contain magic, but is itself magic. It captivates the reader, seeps into the bones as it were, and leaves you full. It’s a middle-grade novel that I would recommend to everyone I know, whether child or adult.
So here are 3 reasons why I love this book:
1. The world itself.
Kelly Barnhill creates a whimsical world for the reader to enter. The characters are unique, ranging from a grumpy swamp-monster to a madwoman in a tower, and each character is sympathetic in their own way. Each is flawed, yet lovable, and even the main antagonists of the story do not escape Barnhill’s humanizing touch. Her setting descriptions are paintings for the mind, with a volcano and bog adding colorful twists to the classic concept of an enchanted wood. The magic in the tale flows naturally through the characters and becomes part of the setting as well. Every aspect of the world blends together beautifully, in a quirky way that set a smile on my face all the way through.
2. The style of writing.
Through shifting perspectives and a lyrical tone, Barnhill adds to the overall poetic style of the book. She writes with such a musical voice that the feel of the story is akin to a Studio-Ghibli film. Although the work is not illustrated, it becomes a visual experience; every detail clearly appearing in the mind. One of my favorite aspects of her style is an ongoing set of chapters in which mysterious, often unidentified narrators tell a story within the story. The mystery adds a sense wonder to the work.
3. The themes and how they are addressed.
The nature of sorrow and hope, the value of family, and the importance of memory are the core themes contained within this work and are addressed in a way that is both heartwarming and realistic. Memory is presented as fleeting, yet as necessary to a person’s identity. Family exists in many forms, and hope is the triumphant element that leads the characters to overcome all obstacles.
The most incredible theme of the story, though, is how Barnhill presents sorrow. The existence of sorrow is dealt with differently by different characters. It is accepted but ignored by some, avoided and suppressed by others, and all-consuming to a few. What is remarkable is how Barnhill subtly shows that sorrow is something that cannot be ignored forever. If suppressed, it lingers beneath the surface and threatens to boil over. If ignored, it overtakes. And if fed, sorrow becomes a black-hole, expanding and entrapping everything else around it.
Sorrow is something that demands to be felt and to be addressed honestly, and it is beautiful that Barnhill recognizes this need in a work of children’s literature. In the end of her story, her heroes save the day, not by magically averting a crisis, but by facing it head on and dealing with the effects with hope and optimism. Problems and grief are not sugar-coated but are shown to be real parts of life. The happily-ever after isn’t the typical, everything-completely-set-right ending, but is the more realistic acknowledgement that life is what we make it. Sorrow will come and so the only question is, how will we respond?
I definitely recommend adding this work to your reading list, especially if you enjoy light-hearted, whimsical tales of adventure. And as you read it, I challenge you to ask yourself, how are you looking at the world today? Do you see the reasons for hope, or are you letting sorrow surround you?