The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Written by Kelly Barnhill.
2017 Newbery Medal Winner.

Overall rating: 2/5. The most recent medal winner was a massive disappointment. Just finishing the book made for a struggle. For the first time since I began this project did I feel the pressure of a deadline – I knew I had to finish the book in time to get this post up, but it was incredibly taxing. Sheesh!

Summary (as taken from the book’s Amazon listing): Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the Forest, Xan, is kind. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon. Xan rescues the children anddelivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. As Luna’s thirteenth birthday approaches, her magic begins to emerge–with dangerous consequences. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Deadly birds with uncertain intentions flock nearby. A volcano, quiet for centuries, rumbles just beneath the earth’s surface. And the woman with the Tiger’s heart is on the prowl . . .

Story: 2/5. Maybe less, I haven’t had time to really process this book, yet.

Let the record show that the first, maybe, one-third of this book is magnificent. I picked up this book on the account of the cover art was beautiful, and it made mention of dragons and witches in the summary. I was truly hoping for something whimsical and magical in the tune of A Wrinkle in Time or The Neverending. Nah. It wasn’t.

The story takes off at a hundred miles an hour, and then slams on the break for three hundred pages. Does the ending pull everything together? Yes. Was it a well executed ending? Yes! Did I find the plot to be predictable and campy? No, not really. My problem doesn’t lie in the beginning of the story nor the rapid conclusion, but with the seemingly endless desert of garbage filler that makes up the majority of this novel. This entire story could have been told in half the text.

I’m unsure why Barnhill chose the storytelling style she did, as there were so many moving parts that none of the parts felt complete. Believe it or not I consider myself at least  as intelligent as your average middle-school student (the assumed audience for middle-grade fiction) and I had a lot of trouble figuring out timelines, who was where, why, how, etc. Half the book is fever dream sequences, part of the book is written as a story to someone else, and part of the book is third-person present timeline accounts. It’s very messy.

Characters: 3/5. For every painfully trope-y attempt at fantasy, there was an interesting and unique counterpart.

You’ve got your “older than the forest” good hearted hermit witch, and your rambunctious and tomboyish young girl who is “stronger than she thinks” acting as your main characters. Ugh. Alongside them though, we have a pocket-sized dragon suffering from memory loss, a villain who literally eats sorrowful feelings, a poetry reciting swamp monster and a disfigured carpenter.

It was a little bothersome that certain characters Barnhill chose to be overly descriptive while leaving some entirely to the reader’s imagination. Felt a little weird reading through a novel where some characters I can picture perfectly down to the freckle, and some I don’t even know how their body is shaped – this being a concern when reading fantasy that features different fictional creatures.

The Positives:
– A few really interesting characters.
– A story that, for once, isn’t overflowing with white people.

The Negatives:
– Super duper unnecessarily long. Draggingly long. Painfully long.
– Several loose-ends that don’t get tied up.
– Repetitive phrasing, causing the book to feel even longer.

Essentially, if you’re patient and appreciate unique takes on fantasy, you should totally read this book. However, if you can’t stand to read the same thing over and over and over again regardless of the benefit, run far away as fast as you can.


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