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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

The Girl Who Drank the Moon


There is a witch in the woods.  There has always been a witch.

Will you stop fidgeting for once?  My stars!  I have never seen such a fidgety child.

No, sweetheart.  I have not seen her.  No one has.  Not for ages.  We’ve taken steps so that we will never see her.

Terrible steps.

Don’t make me say it.  You already know, anyway.

So begins one of the best novels of the year, and arguably the best fantasy novel.  I only have a minor complaint about this one so I’ll lead with it and then commence with the gushing.  To me, the witch’s sidekicks, the swamp monster and the tiny dragon, while charming aren’t sufficiently developed nor do they serve much of a purpose in the plot.  I’m not sure I would’ve missed either one.

But everything else in this novel worked for me.  The book is well plotted and nicely paced with the central mysteries unraveling even as the characters grow and change.  Likewise, the setting starts off as something simplistic, something out of a folk tale, for example, but becomes increasingly more complex as the world of the novel expands.  The sentence level writing, as evidenced above is lovely, and further evokes the feel of an extended fairy tale or folk tale.  The theme is also very reminiscent of a fairy tale, the triumph of love over fear and despair.  This one is just so well crafted.  Admittedly, fantasy is my favorite genre so it’s easy for me to develop blind spots.  Horn Book is the only journal that didn’t star the book, so I turned to their review to see if I could find something: “Barnhill’s fantasy has a slightly ungainly plot, with backstory, coincidence, insight-dumps, and shifting points of view maneuvering its hinges of logic into place. But in theme and emotion, it is focused: love — familial, maternal, filial, and friendly — is its engine and moral, with Luna’s connections with her adoptive grandmother and unknown birth mother a poignant force.”  Hmmm.  What do you think?



Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at


  1. Leonard Kim says:

    As I mentioned earlier, I loved this book. I think you and I and the Horn Book review are in broad agreement about the novel’s features, and it’s more a question of whether some features are actually weaknesses or not.

    To start with your reservation, Jonathan, I don’t disagree there are arguably extraneous elements here. I think one could argue *many* of the individual elements in the book weren’t strictly necessary from a plot standpoint: Fyrian, Antain and Ethyne, either the Elders or the Sisters, the boots, the magic and madness of Adara and her paper birds, etc. That this book works at all with so much stuff in it is a bit of a miracle to me. This is what I wrote on Goodreads: “So many fantasies suffer in the transition from author’s imagination to satisfying creation. This should have been a catastrophic failure because so many different and specific things were imagined that the whole shouldn’t have been workable. It is not a catastrophic failure; it’s kind of a triumph. Drawing from the book’s own themes: it is a labor of love, it is magical, it is a poem.” So, for example, even though Glerk may be unnecessary from a plot standpoint, I think he is critical as a representation of the novel’s thematic concerns of poetry, life and death and longing, generous and expansive love.

    As with some other contenders, I do wonder whether it works so well for children. As a parent, something like the following passage is emblematic of what makes this book special–when Xan expounds to Glerk their responsibility to Luna–but what would a child reader think? “She needs to know the contents of those books, there. She needs to understand the movements of the stars and the origins of the universe and the requirements of kindness. She needs to know mathematics and poetry. She must ask questions. She must seek to understand. She must understand the laws of cause and effect and unintended consequences. She must learn compassion and curiosity and awe. All of these things. We have to instruct her. . . It is a great responsibility.”

  2. OK, so I’ll be the negative Nelly! First, I’m not a great fan of fantasy in general. I did find the characters charming, but I had to force myself to finish the book. I found the plot predictable and slow-moving. I have given it to several children (without sharing my views!) and none have come back to rave about it. I realize that does not mean a lot in terms of Newbery consideration, but there have been several others on our list that HAVE drawn raves — BOOKED, for one!

  3. My Newbery Club members who loved this book REALLY loved this book, while I have many students who just couldn’t get through it. My club is third-fifth graders, so some of the issue was purely the higher reading level. The kids who loved it pointed to the magical setting, the theme (the importance of both sorrow and joy, the power of love, the definition of family, etc.), and The Perfectly Tiny Dragon. Perhaps just the idea of such a creature was enough to enchant them, even if the development was lacking? That being said, however, when we did our first round of nominations today, it wasn’t in our top three. Those were 1. SOME KIND OF COURAGE, 2. PAX, and 3. GHOSTS. (I haven’t brought up any of the cultural issues with Ghosts. We’ll talk about that as we get closer to our next round of nominations.)

  4. Leonard – I must agree with you completely. I am not generally a fan of fantasy, because often I find the all the fantastical elements, the legions of characters, and the overall plot (particularly if several stories are being pulled together) to be confusing and cumbersome. But every once in awhile, I run across a gem – a fantasy that simply sweeps me off my feet and tells a story. The Girl Who Drank the Moon did just that. It all came together without feeling forced or clunky – beautiful prose, enchanting characters – moved right into my top five.

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