Sunday, April 22, 2012

Unhappy Families: Northward to the Moon

NorthwardAlthough I know I've read My One Hundred Adventures, Polly Horvath's previous book about Jane and her family, I only remember scattered bits and a feeling of gentle quirkyness. When I browsed the HOR shelf for my Reading My Library quest, I naturally gravitated towards a familiar name. Yet Northward to the Moon left me feeling deeply sad, and I'm not sure that was Horvath's intention in writing the book.

Jane's poet mother, her three siblings, and her newish step-dad Ned have spent the past year far from their Massachusetts beach house. Ned's job in Saskatchewan has the two younger boys imprinting on vast prairies instead of constant waves, leaving Jane to wonder whether this will be a permanent dividing line in her family -- she and Maya imprinted on the ocean while their brothers belong to the land. This early musing indicates a theme of this book, that families break apart and love cannot hold.

The family wanders dazedly from one town to another, following Ned's hatred of the known and secure. Along the way they fail to make connections with his old mentor, then his brother, and then his entire family. His family stages a mini-reunion when his appearance at his mother's ranch triggers a life-long injury, so his sisters can rally around and again fail to connect. Jane slows down the plot for a paint-by-the-numbers unrequited crush on a cute adult, complete with the humiliating realization that her painfully obvious crush has indeed been noticed by everyone over the age of eight. Meanwhile Maya's discomfort at all these disruptions pushes her farther and farther into despair, but no one has time to care. Finally everyone returns to Massachusetts to complete the splintering of the family.

It's told in Jane's authentic and usually vivid descriptions and thoughts (the exception is during the dreary crush), and the beautiful language almost conceals the heartbreak and tragedy piling up on every side. I will not be leaving this book anywhere near my already sad fifth grader, and my seventh grader would refuse it anyway since it's a sequel.

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