Chipping away at my goal from last year, which has now stayed on the list as a goal this year: read all the Newberry winners (including Honor books) from the past 5 years.
I read this one last fall, but never got around to reviewing it until now. Hey, I had 500+ bulbs to get in the ground before winter! :) Priorities and all that. Also, probably too much wasted time on the computer, but we're not going to go into that right now.
If you missed it, by the way, Suzanne from Such Stuff Books and Amy from Sunlit Pages did a Book Blab episode on this very book. So go check it out!
2017 Newberry Winner
5 stars: Just the right mix of danger, villainy, sweetness, bravery, and hope.
The people of the Protectorate are covered in sadness and resignation, like a thick blanket. Every year, they are required to bring the first baby born that year to the woods and leave it there, as a sacrifice to the witch of the woods. This terrible tradition has taken its toll on everyone who lives there. Every family has a story of someone they have lost and had to leave in the woods.
What they don't know is that the witch of the woods, Xan, is not evil and does not eat children. She doesn't actually know why these people leave one of the precious babies in the woods every year about the same time, but she arranges her tasks so that she is there to pick up the babe soon afterword, lest it fall prey to wild animals.
She then takes the baby with her to a village or town on the other side of the wood, feeding it on starlight along the way. The "Star Children" are much sought after by the people across the vast woods. They are just special and the families who get to raise them consider themselves very lucky. The star children grow up to surrounded by love.
Then it so happens that Xan accidentally feeds the baby moonlight, instead of starlight. Starlight can you make you special, but moonlight makes you magical. She realizes her mistake right away, and decides she must raise the girl herself, in order to teach her how to control her magic. She names the child Luna. Just like that, a new family is created. Though Luna's birth mother is not so willing to let her baby go either.
* * * * *
This was such a memorable, thought-provoking book. I thoroughly enjoyed how it delved into all sorts of issues, with such a subtle and sure hand that it all wove into the story seamlessly. Some of the many things I thought about while reading it were:
* the way outward appearances can be deceiving.
* the way one or two courageous people can cause real change to happen.
* the way mother's heart is bound to her child, always.
* the way the things you don't say to your loved ones sometimes cause more problems than things you do say to them.
* the way you don't always have as much time in this life as you might wish for, so you had best make the best of the time you have.
* the way puberty is hard for everyone, including magical girls (I thought the parts about Luna's magic starting to break loose, and all the worry, fear, and grouchiness associated with that was just about as a good an explanation of puberty as anything I've read.)
* the way finding a new family member or reuniting with an old one doesn't make your circle smaller, it widens it. Love enlarges your heart and suddenly there's room for everyone.
(There were more...read it and let's talk about it!)
I also appreciated Barnhill's ability to bring in darkness and evil without it becoming overwhelming. We learn about the tragedy of the babies left in the forest every year, but then we learn about what happens to them. That makes us know more than the sad people in the Protectorate, and it also gives us hope. Hope that the characters don't share--yet--but that we feel they must by the end of the book.
A less dramatic example is in the middle of the book, when Xan and Luna are trying to figure out what to do about both of them getting older and closer to major life changes. It could be heavy and angsty throughout that section, but it wasn't, in large part due to the wise swamp monster Glerk and the irrepressible tiny dragon Fryian. The balance was just right to allow the deeper issues to be explored while not weighing down the plot or the reader.
I thought it deserved the Newberry it won.
I think it might be too intense for my 5 year old, but I want to read it with my older 2 at some point. So that would make it ages 8+.