Buddy read, Fantasy, Kidlit, Loved-it, Magic, Well known books

A Story of Magic, Dragons, But Also Love, Sorrow And Understanding The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill, ★★★★★ 5 stars

The Girl Who Drank the Moon makes many ‘best of’ lists, so I was incredibly excited to finally be able to read it this year. And it was even more exciting, as we decided on a buddy read with Tânia @ My Lovely Secret. It was one of the most structured and fun buddy reads I’ve ever done! So what follows is my typical buddy read review format, where Tânia asks me her questions and I answer. I also asked questions and Tânia answers them here on her blog, so give her a visit too to see her opinion!

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

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★★★★★ 5 stars

The Girl Who Drank the Moon is a complex story of love, magic, devotion and kindness. It’s about a lot of untraditional lives, lived in love and appreciation (and sometimes danger!) It’s also about a lot of secrets kept – even secrets from your own self. And, of course, it’s about little girls, witches, dragons and, of course, MAGIC.

Luna is one of the unlucky children – children who are spirited away by the witch, while the whole town watches and resigns itself to the loss of yet another child. Life is hard in the Protectorate, and this only makes it all the harder – having their hope stolen away from them every year. But nothing can be done about it. Nothing ever will. Or can it? And is the witch really all bad? Is it even the witch who is to blame?

Some things are about to change, but nobody knows it yet. The Protectorate won’t stay drowned in sorrow for very much longer. And all of the secrets are bound to come out sooner or later.

Tânia: Before anything else, did you love The Girl Who Drank the Moon with all your heart? Or just with half your heart?

A GIF of a rose dropping its petals and them forming a heart that beats

Well, I think Tânia already knew the answer to this question as she was asking it! To be honest, I think I loved The Girl Who Drank the Moon with MORE than one heart. And if you’re going to say I’ve got only one heart to give – well, it’s this book we are talking about, right? And in The Girl Who Drank the Moon, there are no rules to magic. Magic follows the heart! I wouldn’t be surprised if you could love with several hearts in this book. Which is why I’m saying this!

The world the author has crafted is so unbelievable! It reminds me of the world in Neil Gaiman’s Stardust – ever so slightly magical, but sufficiently normal and mundane for the people living in it. And yet so colorful and well-described! The swamp, the forest, the witch and the “monsters” are so instantly lovable. It’s got the distinct middle grade vibe that I really, really love. But more than that, the story is told in such interesting ways – for example, the chapter names are incredibly adorable (readers will see why!) and there are chapters where an adult answers a child’s questions, but the child’s lines are omitted – it’s a way of telling the story that I’m not sure I’ve seen anywhere before, and its so intuitive – plus, it shows so well the way most adults see children – as being not there, having nothing to say – only there to hear the adults speak.

Tânia: What did you love the most in this whimsical and a little bit unnerving world? The characters? The writing? What about the mysteries? Did the Sisters of the Star creep you out too?

A GIF of a paper cutout bird moving on someone’s hand

Oh, it’s so hard to say what I loved most! It was such a unique world. I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything like it. First of all, The Girl Who Drank the Moon has an abundance of characters – and the thing is, it doesn’t feel like too many! Although in any other book it might feel like that’s way too many. They are all just written so well, and you fall in love with all of them. That’s why I say I loved everything! Although perhaps I’ll have to say that loved the plot the most. It’s such an intricate, multi-layered plot with as many meanings and messages in it as you want to take away – for both the adult and the child. I wish I had had a chance to read this as a kid, to be able to reread it as an adult later!

And yes, absolutely The Sisters creeped me out! (l’d be worried about someone who thought they were alright, ha!) And I loved the mystery too. Because even after the hallway point, you still don’t have enough info to figure out why things are the way they are. It was a very engaging mystery!

The Girl Who Drank the Moon has such an intricate, multi-layered plot with as many meanings and messages in it as you want to take away – for both the adult and the child. (Not to mention the magic and the dragons.) #fantasy… Click To Tweet

Tânia: When you read middle grade tales, you expect the child’s POV to take front stage. However, in The Girl Who Drank the Moon, we have several POVs – from magical creatures to an old witch. Of all these POVs, which ones did you find yourself wanting to read the most? Which ones were your favourites? Was there any POV you disliked?

Well, part of the reason I enjoy middle grade better than YA is because it’s most often told through the third person, so it’s not as closely attached to the feelings and moods of the protagonist (please don’t judge. I am a sensitive reader who reacts strongly to first-person POVs, so I don’t enjoy them as much if they’re angsty and tense.) But yes, you are right – The Girl Who Drank the Moon takes it a step further! There are so many characters, and their points of view are explained so well. Perhaps that’s why it feels so natural that there are so many – and it truly helps to see the world through all of their eyes. I really enjoyed most of the characters’ POVs. The one of the Madwoman who discovered magic was incredibly interesting, the one of Xan, the ancient witch, was endearing. The one of the little dragon Fyrian was sweet! But I have to say, my favorite one belongs to the poet! And what an unlikely poet he is – a monster from the bog, and likely one who… created the world. Glerk has such a deep understanding of the world and existence in general, that you could cell him almost Zen – and all that, in a middle grade story. Of course I fell in love with the 6-legged ancient monster / poet! Favorite character ever.

Tânia: There are many interludes throughout the book in which we learn about the folk tales and stories that surround the Protectorate. What did you think of these tales? And the world-building? Was it confusing sometimes? Was it the perfect blend between a magical and eerie atmosphere?

A GIF of a cat reading a book

I didn’t find them confusing at all – on the contrary, I felt like they expressed the feel of the place so well. Cultures are built on stories – it’s how our world even functions. Lore is EVERYTHING. So showing us the stories that shaped this culture was a very smart way to help us understand what kind of place it is. And not only that – by placing these story chapters in between of the ‘reality’ ones, the author shows us how those stories that form our culture and beliefs may actually sometimes… lie. This is a very important conclusion that a lot of adults haven’t arrived at yet (just look at how many people trust the media blindly on what has happened in the latest elections and referendums all over the world…) So proposing this idea to children who will be reading this middle grade book is essential, in my mind. I think this is actually one of the main messages of the book – that we shouldn’t always believe everything that appears to be right, or at the very least, that what we’ve been told must always be true. It’s an incredibly important message in an age where we still unfortunately judge someone by their appearance, the color of their skin, or by what someone else has said about them.

One of the important messages in The Girl Who Drank the Moon is that we shouldn't always believe everything that appears to be right, or at least that what we've been told must always be true – a relevant message for this day and… Click To Tweet

Tânia: Without being spoilery, is there anything you would change? I don’t think anyone would expect the villain to be so easily beaten.

Oh no, I wouldn’t change anything! This will be a hard question to answer without spoilers – but again, this book reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. We had a very similar ending there! What I think an ending like this wants say, is that a villain’s hatred will sometimes eat the villain up themselves. Indeed, quite often even in real life, when we choose to walk away from a bully, what happens is we see them destroyed by their fury, their anger, years later. Some evil doesn’t have to be fought – some evil will burn itself up, all you have to do is detatch yourself and walk away. Of course, this isn’t true for all kinds of evil, but it’s a story rarely told – a story of goodness winning without being righteous, without being violent. It’s also a story that needs to be told, and I found it very meaningful.

Tânia: Many readers seem to believe middle grade books are just for kids. However, they can teach anyone a valuable lesson, as these lessons can be interpreted differently depending on the reader’s perspective or age. So, my question is: does The Girl Who Drank the Moon offer valuable lessons to an older audience?

A GIF of a seal, shaking its head, and the caption says ‘Indeed, indeed, indeed, indeed’

Oh yes! I’ve actually already mentioned this. I truly do believe that it does, and not only that. This book has so many layers to the story that I feel like you might be able to glean a whole new meaning every time you read, because there are so many themes: the power of love and sorrow, the width and breadth of a mother and daughter’s love, the power of kindness, the power of a story in the wrong hands. And these are only the ones I found: some children will pick these themes up, some won’t – because they are tough topics. But even for those who won’t, there’s a wonderful and truly magical world to explore, a mystery to try to solve, and a strong female child / teen character to feel empowered by. This book simply has so much to give!

Tânia: Last but not least, Fyrian or Glerk? =P

I also feel like I’ve already partially answered this one! Tiny dragons can be adorable, but I didn’t enjoy Fyrian very much – he was so infantile, although not through any fault of his own, but it just got to me. And I think I’ve already professed my undying love for Glerk, the poet! So here we are 🙂

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Like I said, The Girl Who Drank the Moon reminded me of Stardust a lot! Stardust is not middle grade, and it’s a very different story, but it has a lot of similar points. Then maybe there’s also no wonder that I’m putting another book of Neil Gaiman’s, Odd and the Frost Giants on the list as well – it’s very short, but it also features a lot of untraditional characters and talks about non-standard choices in life, which is why it reminded me of The Girl Who Drank the Moon. Meanwhile, The Bride of the Blue Wind might be very different from The Girl Who Drank the Moon because it’s fully adult and also a retelling set in a magical version of the Middle East, but still – it had a similar vibe and some similar takeaways. And finally, the only middle grade on the list – The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone is here because it had a strong main character who was sent on magical errands she didn’t actually want to do, and also lost her parents as mysteriously as Luna. It was a wonderful book and I can truly recommend it!

Stardust by Neil Gaiman Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman The Bride of the Blue Wind by Victoria Goddard The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone (Kingdoms and Empires #1) by Jaclyn Moriarty

Don’t forget to drop by Tânia’s blog to see her answers to my questions!

Have you heard of The Girl Who Drank the Moon? And do you have any middle grade recommendations for me that sound like The Girl Who Drank the Moon?