It's time again for my periodic sojourn into the land of middle grade fiction. It's not a place I visit often, but my experience with it has been more pleasurable than I could have expected. The Trouble With Half a Moon, author Danette Vigilante's debut effort, is a great continuation of that trend. It took me almost less than a full day to read it, despite being very distracted by recent life events of the sad sort. Even though it's a short book, it's one that packs a punch.
"I'm pleased you had mind enough to ask," Miss Shirley says. She walks over to the moon and uses her finger to trace where the other half should be. "Just because we cannot see this half of the moon doesn't mean it's not there," she says, studying me. "We know this without having to actually see it." She points to her eyes. Her fingernails are sparkly gold. "You have to believe it's there. Faith, young one," she says, balling up her fist, "is powerful."
When Dellie's little brother is killed in an accident, her life turns upside down and stays that way. Even though her brother has been gone for months, Dellie's mom still cries almost daily over his picture, and Dellie can't even walk to school without her father going along. She's hardly allowed outside for fear that something might happen. Dellie's home in the projects might not be the safest place, but what she wouldn't give for a little freedom to hang out with her best friend Kayla or to take a walk with Michael Ortiz and find out if he really likes her.
Little does Dellie know that life will get tougher before it gets easier. When a hungry little boy named Corey who lives on the first floor of her building shows up at her door, she can't help desperately wanting to save him from his neglectful mother and his mother's no-good boyfriend. She hopes almost without realizing it that saving Corey will absolve her from the guilt she carries about her brother's death, but at the same time she's terrified that he will believe in her and she will fail him like she thinks she failed her brother.
The Trouble With Half a Moon is a bittersweet story about a girl growing up with grief and a family going through the long process of healing. Vigilante presents Dellie in an engaging first-person narration that slowly reveals Dellie's many fears and the terrible guilt she carries with her without revealing the circumstances until late in the story. Even while pursuing her larger themes Vigilante doesn't spare the everyday details of Dellie's life. She vividly captures the embarassment and unfairness of bullying as well as the excitement and uncertainty of first "love" in a way that can make even an older reader feel all those feelings all over again. The heart of the book, though, is Dellie and her family's journey out of their grief. It's heartwrenching to see the fear Dellie has of loving after enduring such a loss, and heartwarming to see how a mysterious new neighbor named Miss Shirley and Corey bring Dellie and her family back to life.
The Trouble With Half a Moon releases on January 6th, 2011.
(Thanks to Stacey at Penguin Young Readers Group for my review copy!)