Clare Vanderpool’s debut middle-grade historical fiction Moon Over Manifest was awarded the 2011 Newbery Medal. This prestigious award is given by the American Library Association to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.
The story 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, Abilene 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.
Strong, unique voices define this novel. Abilene tells her story in first person. Alternately, Miss Sadie narrates the 1918 backstory in third person. Manifest is full of quirky, interesting, well-developed characters. Historical issues of the Depression era, such as the Dustbowl, temperance and orphan trains are subtly woven into the narrative. I highly recommend this well-written novel for readers of middle-grade historical fiction.