People are seldom exactly what they seem to be. Near the beginning of Walk Two Moons we might think Phoebe Partridge needs to learn that lesson more than anybody, but by the end we realize it's a lesson everyone must learn—including ourselves. Sharon Creech's novel is about looking under the surface and being honest about what we find there (unlike many similar novels in which there are no difficult realities to face and everyone is actually nice, even the mean ones).
Salamanca Hiddle begins her tale with little backstory. We know that Gramps says she's a country girl, that Salamanca and her father have just moved from Bybanks, Kentucky to Euclid, Ohio against Sal's wishes, that Sal doesn't like Margaret, and that Sal told Gramps and Gram the story of Phoebe while locked in a car with them on a long road trip. That's not enough to know any of these people yet, but it's enough for "an extensively strange story" that turns out not to be so strange after all.
Sal and Phoebe quickly become friends, though it's a friendship not without its strains. Phoebe is afraid of everything, and even believes the Margaret that Sal's father has befriended may be a murderer. She also thinks the young man she's seen around the neighborhood is a lunatic, and she's sure that the lunatic is the one leaving notes on the front porch and that those notes are threats of some kind. Sal isn't so sure, but gradually Phoebe draws her into her wild imaginings.
What's certain, though, is that Salamanca's mother, Chanhassen, is gone. She's in Lewiston, Idaho, and Sal can think of nothing so much as the return of her mother after having run away. But other things are going on that distract her—life at a new school in which the English teacher reads the students's journals out loud much to their chagrin, the disappearance of Phoebe's own mother, and the budding teenage romance between Sal and Ben.
Interspersed among these stories and many other fragments is the story of Sal's journey to Lewiston with her father's parents, a fun-loving and eccentric old pair who are wiser than they might appear. As one of the lunatic's messages to Phoebe said, this trip is Sal's opportunity to walk two moons in her mother's moccasins, following the exact route her mother took on her journey away from Bybanks to her cousin in Lewiston.
There is more sadness in this book than you'll find in almost any other children's novel. I'm not ashamed that I wept openly reading the last several pages, in which we learn just why Salamanca's mother isn't coming home, why her father has taken such an interest in Margaret Cadaver, and what people do when they aren't with those they love anymore. Ultimately, Walk Two Moons is about loss, though it is also about hope and love and the future.
Some adult readers will be turned off by some of the content. Young teenagers kiss, there is mild profanity, there is talk of violence and more than one scene of actual violence, Salamanca prays to God by praying to trees, and there is mention of a brief unfaithfulness to Gramps on Gram's part earlier in their marriage. These are concerning, but they aren't gratuitous, and they accurately reflect the reality of growing up in a world gone crazy.
The tender way Creech looks at loss and death more than make up for the content. That said, this isn't for everyone. Kids who have never lost a loved one or lived in a broken home may find the novel difficult to relate to, though they will doubtless be better equipped to empathize with friends or relatives who have if they do read it. Walk Two Moons is also one of those rare books that perfectly captures a child's innocence and voice, yet appeals as much to adults as to younger readers.
And of course, Walk Two Moons is valuable for more than therapy. It is incredibly well written, filled with enough mystery to keep even reluctant readers pushing ahead, people by enough eccentric characters to keep everyone guessing, and curved with enough plot twists to thoroughly explore Creech's melancholy themes. The Newbery Medal indicates this is already a children's classic, but it would be a travesty if it didn't end up as a universal classic, too.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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