I am a little late in talking about these books that I read for Witch Week hosted by Lory at Emerald City Book Review, but I wanted to make some quick notes. The first is the classic, Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury and the second is a new title by Kelly Barnhill, The Girl Who Drank the Moon.
Title: Something Wicked This Way Comes
Author: Ray Bradbury
Publisher: William Morrow
Device: Hard cover
For a plot summary
In this classic by Bradbury two best friends, the almost 14-year olds Will and Jim, spend a horror-filled weekend together trying to get away from a hellish carnival. Told in a lyrical, almost poetic style that I really wanted to appreciate, I have to admit I was confused by it. I had to constantly reread and frankly, if I had not committed to this book for Witch Week, I think I would have ditched it soon after starting!
But I persevered and discovered my confusion worked. My confusion was the boys’ confusion. Is Mr. Cooger really dead in the electric chair? And that little girl under the tree was Miss Foley their teacher who by nasty magic regressed in age? And whoever thought a hot air balloon could be so sinister as to hold a witch who was looking for fresh meat? And the Illustrated Man, I mean Mr. Dark, what was he and was he really going to take the boys into the carnival for ever and ever like some marionette doll?
One thing this style of writing did for me was to cast a spell over my imagination and force me to see a world of dimness and blurred vision. All the action happened at the edge of darkness, in fact, I don’t think the sun ever came out and coupled with a storm approaching and plenty of the action happening at night, I just felt weighted down.
The brightest spot for me was Mr. Halloway, Will’s father and the town’s night librarian, who has spent decades among historians and philosophers in his private realm of books. He is really the hero of the story, not just as the boys’ physical savior, but also as a voice for speaking your heart and emotion in the way he opened up to them about life. “Who are you?” both father and son asked and answered to the best of their ability. This ordeal surely strengthened their bond.
And finally, I really appreciated that the resolution to the horror carnival was to share love and joy. That because the carnival fed on the sorrows and disappointments of people, the cure was to be happy. Charles Halloway discovered this when he fought off the witch. What a comical scene: the evil old witch wiggling her hand in the air to slow his heart to a stop, while he is feeling it as tickles on his chest and cannot contain his laughter which in turn blows her out the door!
And I suppose that is about as good a resolution as they come because the alternative, to meet violence with violence, is always temporary.
Title: The Girl Who Drank the Moon
Author: Kelly Barnhill
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Device: Hard cover
For a plot summary
This is a beautifully told story of magic and witches, love and community…and a very big misunderstanding.
For centuries, each year the people of the Protectorate give up the youngest child among the families to the witch who lives in the forest as an appeasement against her doing anything terrible to the town. The ritual is performed with much solemnity, with only occasional protest from the parents, such is the belief in the efficacy of the sacrifice. On this particular day, however, the mother will not let her little daughter be taken and she is ripped from her arms. The ritual goes on as planned and the baby is left on the stone for the witch to take. After the procession leaves and as she has done every year for 500 years Xan, the witch, snatches up the infant and carries it by broomstick to loving families across the forest to the Free Cities.
Xan has never understood why this village leaves an infant to die, but is happy to deliver it to families who love children. However, this year she has become very attached to her charge and begins to take the longer route in order to spend more time with her, alternately nourishing the baby with goat’s milk and starlight as is normal. But she has become so distracted with thoughts of keeping this one that she doesn’t see that the moon has come out when she raises her hand to the stars and draws down moonlight instead, filling the baby with great magic.
The story progresses with the child Luna growing up under Xan’s tutelage, the magical creatures she plays and learns with and the mission to find her mother. Meanwhile, in the Protectorate, a young man whose child is next to be taken, decides he must end this practice and sets out to kill the witch. The misunderstanding is resolved, but not before tragedy and evil takes its toll.
This is a beautifully written book with characters both magical and human that are unforgettable. Barnhill handles tension and conflict well, and writes an easy flowing prose. Though this is a book for middle schoolers, as an adult I found it a very enjoyable read. The only weaknesses in the book are due to this age difference, I believe, as I would have liked more depth to the characters.
Oh, and I must mention the cover. It is exquisite. Here is a larger view.