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The Girl Who Drank the Moon: A book review.

‘The Girl Who Drank the Moon’ by Kelly Barnhill is a beautiful fairytale about love, hope, death, family and magic. In fact, I would say this book is not about magic insomuch as it IS magic. It embodies magic, magic is seeping out of the pages. This book is beautiful. It is a children’s book, and explores important themes and issues in a magical, creative way. Some of the underlying messages may be lost on younger readers but this is one of the reasons this book is perfect to read as an adult too.

This book follows the life of Luna, a child who has been “enmagicked” – in other words – she has had magic put in her, in Luna’s case, from the moon. This magic is very powerful and erupts out of her, making her a dangerous but curious child who any reader would simply fall in love with. Luna is raised by a witch named Xan, who she calls “Grandmama”, and she is a member of a dynamic family consisting of a swamp monster called Glerk and an adorable tiny dragon with a huge heart called Fyrian.

The book also follows a child, who becomes a young man, called Antain, who is one of the only people in the Protectorate to question the yearly ritual of sacrificing a baby to the witch who lives in the wood. ‘What if we are wrong about the Witch? What if we are wrong about the sacrifice? Antain wondered. The question itself was revolutionary. And astonishing. What would happen if we tried?’ It is his questioning and his hope which lands him in trouble, as the citizens of the Protectorate are supposed to accept this fact without question. One of the many lessons taught in this book is the power of knowledge, and how those in power benefit from citizens not asking questions about the way things are. Whilst accepting and not questioning tends to be the easiest, safest option, it is those who question and who challenge who are more likely to bring about change. It is a brave thing to do, the reader is taught as they follow Antain in his journey.

Luna was one of the babies who was sacrificed to the Witch in the woods, but unlike most of the parents who face this horror, Luna’s mother, who we spend most of the book knowing as simply The Madwoman, cried out, screamed, protested. And thus, she is locked inside a tower for being “mad” and spends 13 years in this solitary confinement with her grief. Of course, losing a child in this way, and subsequently being locked inside a tower for the rest of her life, is going to make the most well-adjusted of us lose the plot. I think Barnhill explored grief and ‘madness’ in a very interesting way in this book. I do wonder whether this complexity would be lost on younger readers and might just think of her as being ‘mad’. Luna’s outlook on life, a beautiful combination of childlike innocence and growing maturity kept me drawn to her as a character. Luna summarised her mother’s condition well: “She was, Luna could see, quite mad. Or, perhaps, not mad at all, but broken. And broken things can sometimes be mended.”. Luna approached her mother with compassion and love, rather than fear and hatred, as those in power wanted her to be approached. I wonder whether Luna living in the forest, rather than out in the Protectorate, a village clouded in sadness and fear, meant that she had this hopeful outlook in life, or whether this was something innate in Luna that would have persisted wherever she lived.

Family relationships are a central theme throughout the book. To me, there were many parallels with modern, blended, or unconventional families. We see the love shared through the unusual but charming family of Luna, Xan, Fyrian and Glerk. We also see Luna gradually remembering she had another family when she was a baby – memories come back to her like fragments of dreams. When Luna and Ethyne are reunited at the end of the book, we see Luna’s response to her having two families: Luna tells her mother ‘“My love isn’t divided,” she said. “It is multiplied.”’. I think many people can relate to this notion, whether it is a new family member joining the family through step parents, step siblings, adoption, or even just making new friends. We do not have a finite amount of love within us, but our hearts make room for the new people in our lives.

In the book, we watch Xan gradually dying, however this is not narrated as being scary, it is something Xan is quite comfortable with: “She had no fear of death. Only curiosity.”. I think this is a lovely way for children (I would say aged 10 or older, depending on their reading ability and maturity) to be introduced to themes of death in a safe way and explore this.

The only criticism I have with this book, is that I wasn’t hooked. At all. Despite how much I absolutely loved the book, the plot, the writing style and the characters, I didn’t find myself reaching for it, excited to pick it back up. I think this is partly due to it being quite slow paced, but also the storyline just didn’t feel very gripping.

If you are looking for a cosy, autumnal and magical book that has powerful messages of love, hope and family, look no further.

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