Thursday, February 5

West of the Moon

West of the Moon
Margi Preus

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-1419708961
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Date of publication: April 1, 2014
Age: Grades 6 - 9
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy(ish)

Themes: immigration, folktale, journey,

Astri, a young Norwegian girl, is desperate to join her father in America, but her cruel aunt and uncle sell her off to a deformed goat farmer. She makes a daring escape, reunites with her younger sister, and they set off on a journey to America with a mysterious companion. In their emigration, they go through dreams and reality as they run from the "goatman" and leave Norway for a new future.

This is a complex novel. On the one hand, it is an excellent examination of the pull of America during the 1800s and the influx in immigration. Preus was inspired by her own great-great-grandmother's journey from Norway, and she includes many of the troubles and maladies that would plague such a journey in that time. On the other, it runs parallel with classic folktales, particularly East of the Sun and West of the Moon, which Astri refers to throughout. Does Astri really have troll treasure? Is her hairbrush magical? Can her mysterious companion spin golden yarn? Can Astri really see Death? The delineation between real and fantasy is often blurred, making the story a rather fantastical historical fiction. Which may be confusing for younger readers.

Also, by combining folktale with the real hardship of immigration, West of the Moon does come off a bit dark. There are some mature elements to the story that make me put the book on the upper-end of middle grade fiction. For instance, (spoiler alert!!) Astri deals with an attempted rape from the goatman (very brief and is really only implied), the near-death of her sister (which prompts a vision of  Death himself), and a breech birth (and she's the one delivering the child). Besides the imagined darker elements like trolls, huldrefolk, and spells & curses. So it can get a little intense.

In the end, I can appreciate the fantastic writing that so excellently combined fantasy into history. Preus really does do an amazing job, and you can tell she's personally invested in the main characters and the story. As a whole, it also examines what is right and wrong in a very philosophical, appreciable way. But is it my style? And will kids really enjoy it? Hard to say. I'd recommend it selectively.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

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