Sunday, April 3, 2011

Moon Over Manifest

Written by Clare Vanderpool

There is much about history that remains a mystery to us all. 

Have you ever wished that you could be a part of the past?  Have you ever hoped that for just one moment, you could experience history first-hand?  That you could go back in time and really feel what it was like to be around during “the olden days?”

I have.

Simply put, history fascinates me—but not just reading about it in a history textbook.  It is the stories of the people that fascinate me the most.  And not necessarily the “important” people either—it’s the everyday folks.  The people who could have been my neighbors or friends—had I been around when they were. 

My grandmother tells me stories of when she came to Ellis Island from Italy at the age of eighteen.  Nobody knows for sure when my father’s family came to America from Ireland, but most in my family think it was during the Potato Famine in the mid-eighteen hundreds.  I have heard so many stories growing up about the lives of my ancestors.  It’s quite interesting to delve into your family tree—but I have a family tree to dig into.  What happens when you are not sure who your mother is, or if you even really know your father the way you thought you always had?

In the historical fiction novel, Moon Over Manifest, author Clare Vanderpool is able to successfully incorporate pieces of the past from World War I and The Great Depression through the story of Abilene Tucker, a twelve year-old girl looking for her place in the world and trying to found out more about who her father is and ultimately, where she came from.

It does not take long for Abilene to discover a hidden cigar box underneath the floorboard in the room she is staying in at Shady Howard’s place.   I look at items and objects from the past and not only see a story but smell a mystery—I’m sure Abilene was thinking the same thing.  From the moment she opens that cigar box filled with trinkets and old letters from 1918, I was hooked.  I just had to find out more.  Who is this Ned guy?  And Jinx?  Will one of them turn out to be her father?  I had bundles of questions—and I could not flip the pages fast enough to find out the answers. 

Vanderpool keeps the story moving by writing from a variety of perspectives—the narration of Abilene in the present (1936), Miss Sadie’s storytelling of 1918, the newspaper column written by Hattie Mae from 1918, and the letters written to Jinx by Ned Gillen from 1918.  Through the variety of perspectives, we learned a lot about the people living in Manifest, Kansas in both 1918 and how they related to those in 1936.  Through the stories told, newspaper clippings, and letters from Ned, we are able to put the pieces of the puzzle together right along with Abilene.

Being set during two very difficult times in United States History, it was interesting as a reader to get a glimpse of both eras.  Vanderpool helped the setting to come alive with her use of vivid descriptions. 

“There wasn’t much left in the tree fort from previous dwellers.  Just an old hammer and a few rusted tin cans holding some even rustier nails.  A couple of wood crates with the salt girl holding her umbrella painted on top.  And a shabby plaque dangling sideways on one nail.”


“Sitting on the floor, Eva played with her set of colorful nesting dolls, removing one hollowed-out and brightly painted doll from inside the other, while everyone waited for someone to speak.”

She also helps place us in the time period with the activities and actions of the townspeople.  For example, Manifest was a mining town and much of the communities activities were based around the mine.  Adeline would also often come up with a rhyme to help her get through something difficult.  In college, I learned about the Spanish Influenza.  I remember watching a video of children jumping rope and singing,

“I had a little bird, her name was Enza.  I opened up the window, and In-flu-Enza!”

Every time Adeline would make up a rhyme, this familiar one would come back in my mind.  It reminded me of the time period and of skipping rope—a common past time. 

As Vanderpool mentions in her acknowledgements and her author’s note at the end of the book, there is much of this story that is fiction and some that stems from fact.  Manifest is based on a real town called Frontenac, Kansas where the author’s grandparents were from.  I also found it interesting to find out that Ivan DeVore and Velma the chemistry teacher were real people.  In an interview on YouTube, Vanderpool discusses how she got the idea for the character of Sister Redempta.

I think what is so enjoyable about this book is that you do not have to be fully informed on World War I or the Great Depression in order to enjoy this story.  During this day and age, I think all are in at least some way familiar with what war is, regardless of the name.  Reading letters from Ned helps to make war more real to those of us who have never experienced it first hand.  It was sad to read his last letter when he mentions, “There’s been some talk of peace.  Armistice, they call it.” Written on October 6, 1918, two days before his death and only one month before the end of the war, Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. 
In an age where every household, regardless of whether or not they have healthy food in the fridge, probably owns two televisions and a Play Station, it may be hard for some to imagine the Depression.  This story helps remind us how simplistic things used to be and how appreciative people were for what they had.  Shady’s hard and burnt biscuits were not the best, but they kept the stomach full. 

Adeline found out a lot of answers that summer of 1936, and so did we.  She tied up many loose ends by the end of the story and made me want to go back and reread the book with my new perspective in tow.  Vanderpool was also successful in making me want to go back and read up on the Depression and World War I.  I think this is probably a sign of a well-written historical fiction book. 


  1. I wish I knew more about WWI and The Great Depression. My father grew up in the 30's in Brooklyn, NY. He told lots of stories about my grandparents making ends meet. My father (and his mom and dad) were catholic.....he was a single child, by choice. It was a tough time. But I still heard of great times and how kids and families had fun. This story reminded me of that.

  2. I was so impressed by how all the stories came together. There was such detail. I enjoyed the suspense throughout the book. There were times when I would start to lose interest and then she would throw in a big event such as the Klu Klux Klan and I was hooked once again.