Many books we read when we’re young want to show us lessons about life. True, the items we learn in them can stick with us forever. But lessons can be so dull. Luckily, Kelly Barnhill’s extraordinary 4th novel, “The Girl Who Drank the Moon,” educates about oppression, blind allegiance, and challenging the established order while immersing the reader in an exhilarating story full of magical creatures and derring-do.
My thoughts on the girl who drank the moon
This is a wondrously dark fantasy which is a symphony of gorgeous storytelling and lyrical imagery that completely entranced me as the magic within unfolded like a kaleidoscope of lightness and darkness.
All the elements of this story fit together like the pieces of a glorious, intricate jigsaw puzzle which, once they are brought together, creates a story of so much depth, beauty, pain, and release. The themes are deeply rooted and profound: the craving for power at the expense of humanity; the manipulation of the weak by the powerful; the inherent strength in good people to effect change; forces of nature, spirituality, and magic; and, the power of hope to overcome grief and sorrow.
This is a wondrously dark fantasy which is a symphony of gorgeous storytelling and lyrical imagery
Short Summary and my viewpoints
In the Protectorate, people live in a perpetual state of sorrow with the awful burden of knowing that a child will be sacrificed to the witch in the cursed forest each year. This is so that their community will be protected for another cycle. What the people don’t know is that the witch is not a child-eater, but saves each of the children from certain death.
The narrative has multiple viewpoints, but mainly switches between Luna’s story and Antain’s story. He is the Elder-in-Training who, at the demand of his despicable, power-hungry Uncle, the Grand Elder Gherland, carries Luna into the forest on the Day of Sacrifice, a horror so unbearable that her mother is driven to madness and locked up in the Tower presided over by Sister Ignatius, who has her secrets and needs. Filled with guilt and determined to stop the cruelty of the sacrifice, Antain begins to dig deeper into life in the Protectorate.
The town of Sorrows
The people of a dingy, fog-covered town, nicknamed the town of Sorrows, are convinced that each year they need to sacrifice their youngest child to an evil witch or she is going to destroy them all. The town’s pompous, prissy Elders perpetuate this lie. They don’t believe the witch, but they know the lie makes for “a frightened people, a subdued people, a compliant people.” it’s a governing style that deserves a good thought.
The Elders of the town don’t know that the babies are collected by an honest witch named Xan. She carries them to a happier city with waiting families. They are called Star Children as a result of the journey Xan feeds the starlight. Unlike the morose children in the town, the babies thrive, and their eyes sparkle. It is an exquisite metaphor for the benefits of love and compassion.
A Rebelious mother in the girl who drank the moon
One mother rebels and refuses to offer up her baby. A young Elder in Training, Antain, watches in horror because the mother is grabbed by a ruthless all-female military force, and locked away like a madwoman. The baby is left within the woods as always, and Xan falls crazy together with her “gaze that reached into the tight strings of the soul and plucked, like the strings of a harp.” Because she is so loving, Xan unintendedly feeds the baby not starlight but moonlight, and therefore the baby becomes “mimicked.” Nothing for it, but Xan must bring the child up as her own. She names her Luna and for thirteen years contains her magical abilities.
A Sentimental monster
Xan’s family also includes a sentimental monster who writes poetry and a pocket-size dragon. They all have memories of an unhappy and violent past that have got to be kept locked away. Why must they hide their sadness? And why is it so crucial for the town to be kept sad? When we learn the solution, the whole story falls into place and becomes impossible to place down.
It is Antain, hooked into the madwoman, who begins to suspect all isn’t what it seems. Barnhill excels at characters who don’t slot in, like Antain, whose face is roofed in scars.
Ned, in her previous novel, “The Witch’s Boy,” does not speak; Jack in “The Mostly True Story of Jack” and Princess Violet in “Iron Hearted Violet” are both unusual and lonely outsiders.
Some extra things I have noticed
Barnhill looks past their oddness to their humanity, and that is why we can identify ourselves with them. We then root for their success. As Luna approaches 13, we feel her magical powers. They are threatening to burst from her all along with other less appealing signs of puberty. We feel the fear when it’s disclosed that Antain’s baby is next in line to be sacrificed. And cheer when he and his wife come up with an idea. A chase, a quest, a planned murder: The story is so well-plotted the page’s fly by.
Barnhill’s language is lyrical and reminiscent of traditional fairy tales, but not childish or stereotypical. She writes impressively from a variety of points of view. Not only those of Luna and Xan but also of Sister Ignatia and the mother who has lost her mind.
Magic abounds, both beautiful and dangerous. Origami birds fly, but their paper wings also part and cut. Enchanted but incomprehensible images appear on rocks, and there are seven-league boots so “black… they appeared to bend the sunshine.” Almost every female character seems to possess some supernatural ability when needed, but maybe that’s another hidden truth: we’ve got the power to make things happen. Speak up. Ask questions. Trust your instincts. Valuable instructions for any reader.
My conclusion about the girl who drank the moon
“The Girl Who Drank the Moon” is as exciting and stratified. As typical as “Peter Pan” or “The Wizard of Oz.” It too is about what it means to grow up and find where we belong. The young reader who devours it now only for fun will remember its lessons for years to return.
This is a beautifully dark and intricate story of the deep protective love and loyalty within the family. It has magic at its heart, which certainly cast a spell over me.