Moon Over Manifest
by Clare Vanderpool
A little girl with a transient past is sent to stay with a minister in a small town while her father pursues a railroad job. Sounds like a snoozer, doesn’t it? Think again. This winner of the 2011 Newberry Award is very engaging. On the first day of her arrival, Abilene, the protagonist, discovers a hidden compartment in her bedroom containing a cigar box with old letters and trinkets. Within the box, there is an indication that a spy, a.k.a. "The Rattler," lived in Manifest during WWI, and he (or she) might still be in town. Abilene begins to investigate the spy story, and in the process, meets a mysterious fortune teller who begins to reveal the secrets of Manifest, and maybe even the secrets that her father never told Abilene. The story then begins to be told partly in the present, and partly through flashbacks of Manifest’s past. Readers will see themselves not only in Abilene and her friends, but also in the characters of the past. What kid doesn’t love to investigate? Abilene and her friends poke their noses into very inch of the small town in pursuit of The Rattler, despite being warned to "leave it alone," and in the process have to wiggle out of some tight spots or else get in deep trouble. Abilene’s voice is a highlight in the story. Abilene "rhymes" when she is nervous; rhymes from the period add to the feel of living in that time, and Abilene is laugh-out-loud funny! For instance, when Abilene first sees the fortune teller, she comments that the sign on the door indicates the fortune teller is a "medium" but she feels like that is a bit optimistic—clearly, the woman is at least a size large. Such innocent, humorous word play riddles the book, and lends to the fresh feeling of being young, curious, and invincible. Best of all, by solving the mystery enshrouding Manifest, Abilene gains a new understanding of and connection with her father, and an awareness of what a true home can be.