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.

16 comments:

Stepford Mum said...

I will, Peter!! And I'll tell Little A's godfather about it too - he's from Kansas, and likes to give his Filipino godchildren books set there. :)

Peter S. said...

Hi, Stepford Mum! Thanks!

Portobello's coffee said...

I can't wait to read this. Newberry award winners haven't disappointed me so far.

C.B. James said...

I've not heard of this one before, but your good review coupled with a Newberry Medal means I will be checking it out soon.

Stepford Mum said...

If you'd like to read more on this theme - 1930s racism from the point of view of a child - I recommend Mildred D. Taylor's Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. I read it several times as a teen and loved it. And cried, and read its two sequels. You can find it easily at Booksale these days. I think it won a prize as well.

Of course, nothing will beat Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. That remains one of my top ten books of all time, and my Best Father's Day Read (tied with Roald Dahl's Danny, Champion of the World).

Peter S. said...

@Portobello's coffee: I'm sure you'll like this one. I remember I also recommended When You Reach Me to you, and you liked it as well.

@C.B. James: I just saw it in the bookstore, and the medal on the cover did it for me. I just knew I had to have it. I'm just glad that I read it this weekend and I was able to write a review.

@Stepford Mum: Thanks for the recommendations! I'll be on the lookout for these.

Tina said...

I almost run when I open your blog because I know I'm going to go immediately to the library catalog to see if they have whatever it is you're reading, and then I'm going to have to go to B&N to get it for my NOOK if the library doesn't have it.

I love Newberrys- you just can't go wrong. Thanks for another great pick and great review.

Peter S. said...

@Tina: You're welcome!

Ryan G said...

I listened to a wonderful interview with the author on our local NPR station since she is a local resident. I haven't read it yet, but I plan on doing so soon.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Ryan G! I would have to Google that!

Mrs. B. said...

Sounds wonderful! I've never heard of this but sounds like something I'd like.

Peter S. said...

It is so wonderful, Mrs. B!

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Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

I cant resist anything that says "favorite book of the year...." this book looks good Peter!

Peter S. said...

It's such a wonderful story with endearing characters, Sheila!

Book Dilettante said...

I haven't read the cover but I remember doing what this young girl did on the cover - balance on railroad ties!