Sunday, May 22, 2011

My favorite book this year (so far)

One can never go wrong with an excellent storyline, a well-developed character, and super writing, no? All these I found in this year's Newberry winner, Clare Vanderpool's debut fiction Moon over Manifest. I would have to say that, well, this is my best read so far this year.

Vanderpool has come up with a novel that combines history, mystery, and one girl's coming of age in one beautiful story that I devoured in one sitting. Vanderpool took me back in the year 1936 in a small town in Kansas called Manifest, where Abilene Tucker has been sent by his father over the summer for reasons he just won't disclose. Abilene and his father, Gideon, are somewhat of a nomadic duo, never staying too long in one place. Manifest, however, is Gideon's hometown.

Abilene then lives with a middle aged pastor named Shady, who also took care of Gideon during his childhood years. It is in Gideon's house where Abilene discovers a hidden cigar box once owned by a boy named Jinx. Abilene learns about the childhood years of Jinx when she makes the acquaintance of the town diviner, one Miss Sadie. It is this person who provides us with the stories of Jinx childhood way back in 1917 at the start of the first world war.

Like any good novel, Moon over Manifest eventually provides the connection among Abilene, Gideon, Jinx, and the good people of Manifest. It is a story that has given me goosebumps because it is just that good. Not a missing thread, not a gaping hole in the narrative, not a contrived circumstance. It made me realize that historical fiction, true historical fiction written with meticulous research, need not be boring.

There are a lot of characters to root for in this novel. Miss Sadie, for all her apparent negativity around Abilene, is an angel. The nun who's also a school teacher, Sister Redempta, turns out to have a very pivotal role in the novel. Even Hattie Mae Macke, the town's journalist, is never two-dimensional. We don't get the nosey reporter who's always covering up things from the main character.

To be honest, I wasn't really prepared to like Moon over Manifest as much as I did. I couldn't care less about Kansas in the 1930s. But of course, I just had to get this book since it won the Newberry after all. Imagine my wonderful surprise when I discovered that I've been reading this nonstop for almost 5 hours and that I was almost crying at the end. Read it! Read it! Read it now!

Read this book if:
  1. You like historical fiction.
  2. You always think about your hometown.
  3. You'll read anything that has won the Newberry.