This is a tough review to write because do I write it from the perspective of an adult reading a middle grade or do I write it from the perspective of a middle grader?
Here is the problem with The Girl Who Drank the Moon … it is the middle grade adults want middle graders to read. It isn’t a middle grade for middle grade readers. And for that fundamental reason, I feel this book fails to meet its mark. Especially when it is touted as being the second coming of Harry Potter.
Sorry, but no.
Every year the people in the Protectorate sacrifice the youngest baby to the forest, left to die alone, in order to appease the forest witch. Xan, said forest witch, actually protects the babies and carries them off to safety and new, loving families.
One year, Xan accidentally feeds the baby moonlight, filling this child with extraordinary magic. Deciding she must keep the girl and teach her of her powerful magic, she quickly falls in love with her little Luna. Helping raise Luna are a swamp monster and an itty bitty dragon.
As Luna grows, her magic becomes exceptionally powerful and unpredictable, a man is trying to free his village from the evil witch, and the volcano on which the forest lies is grumbling awake. All these forces combine as Luna’s thirteenth birthday looms.
Full of luscious, vivid, spiritual, and symbolic writing it was easy for me to get lost in, and not always a good way. “She was an old woman. She was a girl. She was somewhere in between. She was all those things at once.”
What middle grader is going to love that prose?
As an adult I can appreciate the slow, poetic story and can see why it is so acclaimed. But as a mother who has been reading middle grade with her middle grader for two years … this isn’t written with the intended audience in mind.
The pacing is exceptionally, painfully slow. The visualization, symbology, and repetitiveness over the top …. she is here, she is here, she is here. (If I had to read that phrase one more time, I swear …) I take great issue with the “can’t handle her magic, can’t handle her power” storyline and was so tired reading 200 pages of Luna’s magic seeping out of her pores and mind.
While conceptually it had all the elements of an exceptional fairytale with swamp monsters, tiny dragons, forest villages, and magic, it fell short in execution. Even though it is recommended for the older end of middle grade, ages 10-14, I still feel not many in that demographic are going to connect to this story. Heck, as an adult I struggled to!
For those who enjoy heavy, visual, lushly detailed prose within a reimagining, magical fairytale world – this is a story for you. But I sincerely struggle to call this middle grade.