Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
This is a beautifully written, but slow moving historical fiction which explores the concept of home, family and community. Powerful descriptive writing brings to life the small town of Manifest in both 1918 and 1936 through the eyes, experiences and unravelling of clues by protagonist Abilene Tucker. This plucky young girl has been raised by her father during the Depression but after a close call with death for Abilene he decides to send her to Manifest, Kansas for the summer. Feeling abandoned by her father, Abilene discovers hidden treasures in the floorboards of Pastor Shady's house where she is staying. Using these trinkets she sets out to discover the true meaning of home, family and community while unraveling the identity of her father. The book moves seamlessly between the two time periods as Abilene uncovers the history of Manifest and all that it was and has become. The characters are quirky, meaningful and worthy of further discussion and while the plot twists and turns in interesting ways, it does move more slowly than many young adult readers would like. Those intrigued by historical fiction will find this book fascinating as the description and detail is fabulous but I think it would be a hard sell to those not interested in this genre. As this book was competing with A Monster Calls in this round, it does not move on.
A Monster Calls A novel by Patrick Ness, inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd
This British book is sharp, thoughtful, desperately sad, but perhaps brutally honest and comforting all at the same time. It is based on an idea conceived by Siobhan Dowd before she died of cancer at the age of 47 but is written by Patrick Ness. In his words in the introduction to the book he writes, "I had only a single guideline:to write a book I think Siobhan would have liked. No other criteria could really matter." This book is hauntingly illustrated by Jim Kay in black and white and his illustrations bring to life the fabulous but terrifying monster and the overwhelming emotions thirteen year old Connor experiences as his mother bravely fights her battle against cancer. The monster visits Conner at the same time each night - a wonderful element of foreshadowing - and tells Connor three tales, he then waits for Connor to tell his own.
You will tell me a fourth, the monster repeated, and it will be the truth.
Not just any truth. Your truth.
"O-kay," Connor said, "but you said I'd be scared before the end of all this, and that doesn't sound scary at all."
You know that is not true, the monster said. You know that your truth, the one that you hide, Connor O'Malley, is the thing you are most afraid of.
Connor stopped squirming.
It couldn't mean -
There was no way it could mean -
There was no way it could know that.
Throughout the novel Connor must come to terms with living with his grandmother, with whom he has very little in common, and must spend time with his father who has begun an unrecognizable new life in America complete with a new wife and baby. He must deal with school bullies, compassionate teachers and friends desperate to reach him as he battles against himself and alongside his mother.
I found this book gripping, haunting, delicate, thoughtful, indescribably sad and intricate. Would I hesitate before giving it or recommending it to students, certainly yes a thousand times. Would I say it is a book you must read yourself before you pass it on or recommend it, definitely. It is heavy matter indeed but important, maybe even essential matter, in the right reading hands, with the right guidance at the right time. I think the reading experience with this novel will always be tinged with our own experiences with loss and will colour our view of this novel. However, I move it on in this competition in the spirit of truly excellent, and challenging, literature.