I read Walk Two Moons as part of the "literature circle" for my 6th grade son's class. I went into the read cold, knowing only what was written on the back of the book and the fact that it was a Newberry winner.
The basic idea of the story is a teenage girl (Sal) is traveling cross country with her grandparents to try and find her mother. Along the trip they have a few mini-adventures and Sal spends most of the drive-time telling about recent events of her own life as related to a "crazy" friend she had named Phoebe. The title of the book comes from a supposed Indian saying "never judge a man until you've walked two moons in his moccasins." Once that phrase is put out there, it becomes more apparent what the author is doing in this book.
The story is very multi-layered. There's the historical story that Sal is telling about her recent past and her interactions with her friends and neighbors, but particularly with her father and the fact that her mom left them to go out west. That narrative thread in itself has multiple layers…the story of Phoebe and her crazy life and the story of Sal and her family and loss. Sal narrates each of these stories and seems unaware of just how parallel her story is to Phoebe's story. Meanwhile, Sal is traveling across the country with her grandparents and many of their interactions along the road area also very insightful into Sal's life story.
By having multiple story threads running concurrently, the story arc was able to twist and turn over itself in ways that were obvious while also being thoughtful and not feeling blatant or silly. Still, some of the plot points felt a little heavy handed at times, but generally ok.
I found myself going back and forth in terms of my level of enjoyment of this book. There were numerous scenes that pulled at either sad or happy emotions but a lot of the story was a confused sense of exploration. Sal was a fun and funny narrator and made the storytelling compelling but I had a hard time really liking her as a character. I think that was somewhat intentional as she is emotionally a little hardened and withdrawn as a result of recent events. This makes it hard to approach and relate to her, especially since I don't have directly relatable experience. At the same time, I could appreciate and sympathize with her plight and her desire to come to grips with her life.
I really liked the way this book played with self exploration through storytelling and narrative. Sal spent the entire book telling stories but what I enjoyed was the fact that she seemed to be learning about herself and uncovering bits of her subconscious without even realizing what she was doing. It wasn't until nearly the end of the book that she seems to come to a sense of awakening to her own emotions and the catharsis that comes in coming face to face with one's self.
This is a good, well written read and I definitely feel it deserved the Newberry (granted, I haven't read its competition). The narrative is smooth and flowing and really felt like a good portrayal of a 13 year old girl going through emotional upheaval. In spite of the various predictable elements, there are a number of surprises that can catch you off guard. Add to that the funny anecdotes and witty narrative and you have a good solid book.
3.5 out of 5 stars
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