Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Trouble With Half a Moon by Danette Vigilante

Since her brother died in a tragic accident, 13-year-old Dellie's world has constricted tightly around her. Her mother so desperately wants to keep her safe that she seldom lets her leave the apartment.  While wading through her own tremendous grief and guilt over her brother's death, Dellie has to navigate all the challenges of daily life: failing math tests, being noticed by her crush, and the drama of 7th grade girls. Not to mention living in a low income apartment building, where her sleep is shattered one night by gunshots.

Several new people enter her life, challenging Dellie and her mother to step outside their fears. These include a somewhat eccentric Jamaican neighbor and a needy boy who reminds her painfully of her brother. After being frozen in time since the tragedy, her family slowly begins to move again, though their lives will never be the same.

This is a relatively easy book that will appeal to middle grade readers as well as teens. But I'll warn you: it's a tear-jerker. I rarely cry during books or movies, but I was sniffling by the end of this story. I appreciate the fact that this author respects her young audience enough not to avoid difficult themes, including grief, guilt, child abuse and neglect, and poverty.

I liked the fact that this novel touched on people's misconceptions about poverty. I am amazed at the way people in our culture blame others for their misfortunes, especially poverty. I don't know whether this is the dark side of our capitalist philosophy or simply a facet of human nature. We convince ourselves that people cause their own problems, so we feel "safe" -- if we work hard and do the right thing, it could surely never happen to us. Danette Vigilante touches on this delusion:
The people who live here are poor, but for different reasons. Not everyone knows that. They think we're all the same. But that's not true. Some people spend their money on drugs and beer. Others, like my parents, are just working poor. My father drives a forklift all day and my mother works in a clothing factory packing up store orders. They go to work every day but don't get paid much. My father says he'll sell his soul if that's what it'll take for me to go to college.
Kayla and her mother lived in a big building with a doorman before her mother lost her job on Wall Street ...
I also liked the fact that this book was about a Puerto Rican American family, and it touched on food and other cultural traditions, yet ethnicity and race was not the focus of the story. Though I love learning about other cultures, and am intrigued by people's feelings and attitudes about their ethnicity, this is only a part of our identity and life experience. I like to see novels feature a rich variety of races and cultures without stories always being about that.

This is a memorable novel, with a young protagonist I quickly grew to love. One thing disappointed me; I wished the secondary characters were more fully developed. I got a one-dimensional picture of Dellie's parents, friends, and neighbors. Perhaps the author wanted to keep this novel short, making it accessible for younger readers.

The Trouble With Half a Moon will be well loved, especially by middle school aged readers (around ages 11-14). This is Danette Vigilante's debut novel; I look forward to seeing what she creates in the future.

Many thanks to Stacey Barney at Putnam for sending me an ARC of this book. You can visit the author at her blog -- how could you not love somebody who fights Klingons with her hubby on Halloween? :-)

Rating: 4

5- Cherished Favorite4 - Keep in My Library3 - Good Read2 - Meh1 - Definitely Not
For Me

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