One of my favorite historical fiction novels is Clare Vanderpool”s debut middle grade MOON OVER MANIFEST, which won the 2011 Newbery Medal. This story, which I reviewed here on LitStack early this year, finds twelve-year-old Abilene Tucker on a train to Manifest, Kansas in 1936. Her wandering father, Gideon, has sent her there to stay with an old friend of his, preacher and saloon owner Shady Howard. Abilene carries only a change of clothing, two dimes, and her most treasured possession – her father’s compass.
Abilene feels her father has abandoned her. With the help of new found friends, she begins a journey to learn anything and everything she can about her father and his connection to Manifest. Soon after arriving in Manifest, she loses the compass, which is a perfect metaphor for how she feels – lost, adrift, unsure of where she is without Gideon. She finds the compass in Miss Sadie’s Divining Parlor, home of the local fortune teller. Miss Sadie insists Abilene do odd jobs around her house to earn back the compass. During these visits, Sadie recounts the stories and events of 1918, a pivotal year in the lives of Manifest citizens. Even the name of the town is a metaphor, as Miss Sadie reveals nuggets of the town’s past, piece by piece. Through these stories, and the help of her friends Lettie and Ruthanne, Abilene discovers her father’s past and unravels town secrets and mysteries, restoring a sense of pride and unity to the townsfolk. Ultimately, Abilene discovers something she’s never known – the meaning of home.