Have you read it yet? I was late getting to it in my to-be-read pile, but I just finished it Sunday. Wowzers! Is that even a word? [Urban Dictionary: Means the same thing as wow but with more “oomph” & enthusiasm.]
Since I am late reading it, the book already has five ★’d reviews! For good reason. It is a mash-up of storytelling, folklore, fairy tale, myth, magic, mysticism, dreams, hero’s journey, historical reality, intergenerational family ancestry, religion, integrity, violence, sisterhood, women’s studies, and “America fever”, with a bibliography, glossary and pronunciation guide, author’s note and illustrations in an unassuming package. Seriously. This book is quite slight, considering the wallop it packs. Generous line spacing on the 213 pages usually indicates a read that isn’t too challenging, and in this case it is deceptively true. Preus’ use of language is deft and easily flows, but the story she tells is razor sharp. She wastes no time getting right on with it, and boy, what a story it is. I am already a fan of hers, having read two of her previous books, Heart of a Samurai, a 2011 Newbery Honor Winner, a New York Times Bestseller and NPR Backseat Bookclub Pick, and Shadow on the Mountain, a thrilling WWII novel of the Norwegian underground resistance movement.
In West of the Moon, Preus tells us a fresh story of history that derives from her own family background that interweaves a massive number of threads that make for wide and varied discussion and further reading. If you’re late getting to it like I was, rectify that now. Here is the description from the publisher, ABRAMS/Amulet Books:
Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Margi Preus expertly weaves original fiction with myth and folktale to tell the story of Astri, a young Norwegian girl desperate to join her father in America.
After being separated from her sister and sold to a cruel goat farmer, Astri makes a daring escape. She quickly retrieves her little sister, and, armed with a troll treasure, a book of spells and curses, and a possibly magic hairbrush, they set off for America. With a mysterious companion in tow and the malevolent “goatman” in pursuit, the girls head over the Norwegian mountains, through field and forest, and in and out of folktales and dreams as they steadily make their way east of the sun and west of the moon.
"Like dun silk shot thought with gold, Preus interweaves the mesmerizing tale of Astri’s treacherous and harrowing mid-nineteenth-century emigration to America with bewitching tales of magic. A fascinating author’s note only adds to the wonder."
—Booklist, starred review
“Norwegian history, fiction and folklore intertwine seamlessly in this lively, fantastical adventure and moving coming-of-age story.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Enthralling and unflinching, this historical tale resonates with mythical undertones that will linger with readers after the final page is turned.” —School Library Journal, starred review
“Astri is like a girl out of a fairy tale, and the native folktales that Preus weaves through the narrative serve as guides, lessons, and inspiration for her.” --Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Several Norwegian folktales are seamlessly integrated into the fast-paced, lyrically narrated story, which features a protagonist as stalwart and fearless as any fairy-tale hero.” —The Horn Book Magazine, starred review
“It’s Astri’s voice, however, that is most appealing: her direct, no-nonsense narration has a sharp bite, yet it also reveals the vulnerable young girl who’s willing to continue to fight but is nonetheless exhausted by the weight of her struggle. The chapters have an episodic structure that makes this an ideal choice for readaloud or storytelling adaptations, while the mix of folklore, fact, and fantasy will please fans of Edith Patou’s East.” —The Bulletin of The Center for Children’s Books
“It’s amazing. Dark and resilient with a core theme that simply cannot be ignored … with folktales and beautifully written prose. With a deep sisterly bond, and a serious consideration of what is right and what is wrong and what is necessary in desperate circumstances. Slow to start, smart when it continues, and unlike anything you’ve ever really read before … Remarkable.” —Elizabeth Bird, School Library Journal Fuse Eight blog.
Margi Preus is a children’s book author and playwright. Her first novel for young people, Heart of a Samurai, is a 2011 Newbery Honor Book, an ALSC Notable Book and a recipient of the Asian Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature, among other honors. Her picture books include Celebritrees; Historic and Famous Trees of the World, winner of the 2013 Flicker Tale Award. Margi served as the artistic director of Colder by the Lake Comedy Theatre for 25 years and with current Colder director and playwriting collaborator, Jean Sramek, has written hundreds of comedy sketches, a couple of comic operas, and dozens of plays for young people and grown ups. When she isn’t writing, she likes to ski, hike, paddle or sit quietly with a book in her lap.
Ages 10 to 14
My review: A middle-grade novelization of the life of Nakahama Manjiro, believed to be the first person from Japan to visit America in 1843. From humble beginnings, a set of circumstances leads a young boy into an unimaginable life and experience of a world unknown to his home culture. From Manjiro’s perspective, the story presents an interesting frame of reference for America at that time in history. Conversely, it is fascinating to learn about Japan in that same context. Elements of natural history, whaling, sailing, prejudice, politics, courage and determination make the life of this one man a valuable teaching moment. An epilogue, a historical note, an environmental note, and a glossary add to teachable components of this story. The reference to samurai in the title comes from Manjiro’s desire to be a samurai, an aspiration which he would never be allowed in Japan. But for strange twists and turns of his life, he indeed earns the rank of samurai for helping Japan overcome 250 years of isolation and enter into a relationship with America and the west.
Ages 10 to 14
My review: An accessible story of a lesser known aspect of World War II. A Norwegian boy finds himself serving as messenger, then spy for the resistance movement as his country struggles under Nazi occupation. When he is ultimately found out, he makes a harrowing escape to Sweden. An easy read, Shadow Mountain offers insight into a culture of teenagers grappling with the difficulties brought on by the challenges of occupation. Based on a true story, the book could serve as a gateway to other books of WWII for middle grade or early YA readers.