Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

The Girl Who Drank the MoonAuthor: Kelly Barnhill
Title: The Girl Who Drank the Moon
Format/Source: Hardcover/Library
Published: August 2016
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Length: 388 pages
Genre: Middle grade fantasy
Why I Read: Liked the description
Rating: ★★★★
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This is going to be one of those ‘reviews’ where I just gush about what I love without much critical thinking. The Girl Who Drank the Moon is my favourite kind of middle grade fantasy. In fact, it’s pretty much my favourite kind of any book. I had an easy time brainstorming why reasons why I liked this book. In no particular order:

  • Adult characters with a young female protagonist
  • Misunderstandings between good people that are reasonably resolved
  • A curmudgeonly yet caring creature who is more significant than he appears (but it doesn’t really matter)
  • A young child fulfilling a ‘destiny’/coming into their own
  • A twist on a dragon!
  • An isolated forest setting
  • An unusual feature of the landscape (volcano)
  • A woman fighting for her child
  • Straightforward but evocative fairy tale prose that feels like it was written just for me

The only truly safe passage across the forest for an ordinary person was the Road, which wa ssituated on a naturally raised seam of rock that had smoothed over time. The Road didn’t alter or shift; it never grumbled. Unfortunately, it was owned and operated by a gang of thugs and bullies from the Protectorates. Xan never took the Road. She couldn’t abide thugs. Or bullies. And anyway, they charged too much. Or they did, last time she checked. It had been years since she had gone near it – many centuries now. She made her own way instead, using a combination of magic and know-how and common sense. (19)

  • Simple yet structured and creative magic system
  • Short interludes of a mother telling bedtime stories
  • A sweet loving old lady (bonus for being a witch)
  • A forgotten/confused past that slowly comes to light
  • Bonus: A lovely cover and a title following the structure of ‘The [Noun] Who [Did Thing]’

Need I say more? By now you can probably tell if this is the sort of book you’ll love or hate. This was one of my favourite reads of the year. It reminded me of some of my childhood favourites (Inkdeath and Into the Land of the Unicorn come immediately to mind).

Some reviews on Goodreads (1 | 2) commented on its suitability as middle grade.  Generally when I review books here I’m doing it for my own personal enjoyment and recommending to people in a similar position as me (i.e. adults not children). Are there some parts of this book that could be consider too ‘grown up’ or ‘boring’ or ‘political for middle schoolers? Perhaps, yet that’s the sort of story I enjoyed as a child and it’s still the sort of story I enjoy now. As I apply to grad school for pursue my dream of becoming a librarian, I wonder if I should shift perspective in my reviews – to reviewing books for their intended audience, rather than for my own personal enjoyment. For now, this blog remains a personal hobby and I think I will keep it that way for a little while longer. But that’s really a topic for another post!

The Bottom Line:

The Girl Who Drank the Moon is a beautifully written tale, with elements that add up to make it my favourite kind of fantasy story. I hope you will enjoy the adventures of Luna, Xan, Antain and the others as much as I did.

Further Reading:

Jenna's signature

  • Great review!

    I tend to review in terms of my own personal reactions to the book, as well. I think other adults are reading my blog looking for reading recommendations for themselves (though sometimes for students or their children), so it seems to work. I think I primarily comment on whether the book is suitable for or appealing to children if I feel there might be a distinct disconnect between children and adult reactions. (For instance, some books seem a little simplistic to me or a little nonsensical, but I think that if I’d read it as a child I wouldn’t have noticed or cared.) I think the only book I’ve thought was potentially MORE appealing to adults than children is The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz (though my review is scheduled for this upcoming year). But that’s a unique case where I felt I personally only liked the book because I’m a medievalist and it’s so heavily steeped in medieval literature and history. I don’t know if children will get it or be particularly entertained by references to The Canterbury Tales, for instance. I don’t have a lot of issues with books being too dark, too political, etc. for children because I think all children are different, and those things definitely appeal to some.

    • Thinking about it more, I guess my only real issues are with books like Jane Eyre counting picture books, or a picture book I ran across that was about Emily Post. It’s a different age group than middle grade, of course, but I think it illustrates what I mean by a disconnect and a book appealing more to adults than children. Who’s going to understand and be amused by Jane Eyre references in a picture book? The parent or the toddler? I think another example might be the middle grade book that came out recently about Harper Lee and Truman Capote. (Disclaimer: I haven’t read it.) Most people are at least in high school when they read To Kill a Mockingbird, so a middle grade book about Lee seems like something that greatly appealed to the adult publishers and may entertain adult readers, but I just don’t see the point of it being sold to eleven-year-olds.

      • Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts! You make a good point re: commenting on whether there may be a disconnect between children and adult reactions. The bloggers I follow take different approaches with reviewing middle grade, so I will have to work out an approach that works for me.

        With regards to picture books like the ones you mention, I think of ‘family films’ that are generally child friendly but include some adult jokes/references for the parents who have to watch the movies with their kids. For picture books, I can see why there might be a need to appeal to parents who may have to read the book over and over. I think middle grade is a different story, though. Parents don’t need to be involved in the reading experience in order for their middle schooler to enjoy a book. The example you give is a good one. I also haven’t read it, but I imagine it would need to have a lot more going for it than just playing off the two famous authors if it’s going to appeal to a young audience.