I think what attracts people to Barnhill's work is chiefly her style. She has a rhythmic, poetic way to frame her story. Her word selection is always on-point and beautiful. But while the story had its moments, it seemed to me to be serially undeveloped.
First, it suffers from any particular point of view. If there is a clear protagonist, it is the grandmother-figure, which I think for middle grade fiction is the wrong choice. I can see why adults liked this sentimental look at raising a daughter...but I don't see children resonating with it. This is one of my major complaints with the book - it's not for children. It feels like one long, drawn out wink at fellow adults.
Second, the first fourteen chapters are needless backstory. Yes, the first fourteen chapters. The book would have been more intriguing to me had we begun here, and worked our way backward. There are plenty more backstories interspersed throughout, none of them adding much to the narrative. Where was the editor?
Third, there are two kinds of fantasy: world-bound and whimsical. The pleasure of reading world-bound fantasy is in discovering the way an entirely new "system" works together. The pleasure of whimsical fantasy is in its consistent surprise, eccentricity and humor. This book seems undecided as to which it was. It leans toward whimsy, but the true test of whimsy is hilarity (think Alice and Wonderland or Wizard of Oz). The whimsy in the Girl Who Drank the Moon feels simply like an undeveloped "system."
So overall...not a bad book, really. But I feel it could have used plenty more work, which frustrates me on behalf of the author. Then again - the New York Times and the Newberry society apparently disagree with me. So, maybe I'm just in a bad mood.
3 out of 5 stars.
If you want to check it out for yourself, you can nab a reasonably priced copy here: