Book Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon

The Girl Who Drank the Moon
By: Kelly Barnhill
Published by: Algonquin Young Readers
Release date: August 9, 2016
Genre: MG/YA fantasy
400 pages
Source: galley kindly provided by publisher

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill, begins with a child who must be sacrificed for the good of the society, but is rescued and grows up to be a Child of Destiny.  Throughout human history, stories from Oedipus Rex to The Hunger Games have started with a similar premise, but The Girl Who Drank the Moon quickly distinguishes itself from the others with its quirky characters, its gentle magic, and its faith in the power of love.

The characters were the first thing that made me fall in love with this book.  Xan, the witch of the woods, is afraid of nothing and no one.  In the scene in which the reader first meets her, she berates an ancient swamp monster named Glerk.  Glerk, naturally, is not your typical swamp monster; he is incredibly civilized and quotes the Poet at nearly every opportunity.  Their dragon friend, Fyrian, believes that he is a Simply Enormous dragon, even though he is Perfectly Tiny, and could fit into Xan’s pocket.  (He’s not completely delusional; he thinks Xan is a giant.)  The only downside for me with the characters is that Luna, the titular character, does not come into her own until about two thirds of the way through the book, though much of that is due to the magic employed by Xan.

The magic in The Girl Who Drank the Moon has a very mystical quality to it, arising organically out of the emotions and desires of those who can wield it.  Starlight and moonlight also fuel magic, the drinking of which is how baby Luna ends up becoming magical herself.  I liked that Ms. Barnhill didn’t enumerate a bunch of rules for the magic because it adds to the numinous quality of the book.  The magic is important, but it’s not the most important thing going on in the story.

I absolutely adore this book!  If I had to compare The Girl Who Drank the Moon to another book, I would say it reminds me of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (by Catherynne Valente) with its young female protagonist and mystical nature.  But where Valente’s book focuses on the power of the individual, The Girl Who Drank the Moon focuses on the power of relationships.  Love, loyalty and kindness are magic, and can both change and protect the world.
 Who isn’t on board with a message like that?

P.S.  I have to give a shout out to the artist behind the cover art.  It is simply gorgeous!

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. 

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule--but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her--even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.

The acclaimed author of The Witch’s Boy has created another epic coming-of-age fairy tale destined to become a modern classic.