Moon Over Manifest begins with rough-and-tumble, Depression-era stock heroine, Abilene Tucker, arriving in her father's hometown of Manifest, Kansas. She's used to hopping trains, poor living conditions, a rough life and being a little rough around the edges. You know the type. Her father has taken a railroad job in Iowa, and claiming that the situation isn't proper for a young lady, has sent her to spend the summer with his old friend, bootlegger-turned-pastor, Shady Howard. Or, at least, her father says it is only for the summer...
Looking for clues to her father's past, Abilene instead stumbles instead on a little tin filled with some keepsakes and letters, piquing her interest in a couple of young men named Ned and Jinx, and a spy called "the Rattler."
And this is where the story comes alive...
Through the recollections of an old Gypsy fortune teller, Abilene learns about the lives of Jinx, Ned, and about the once-lively town of Manifest, Kansas. Vanderpool manages to effortlessly weave in the stories of Manifest in 1918, on the brink of the Great War, with the Depression-era Manifest of 1939. Sometimes, stories with multiple narratives can be frustrating -- just as you start to get into one story, the author switches to the other -- but Vanderpool balances both very well, never sinking to obvious cliff-hangers nor spending too much time in one "place."
However, both places have their elements of excitement and mystery that keep you wanting to read about both. Best of all, both are full of some really great and memorable characters. This is one of those novels that is just chock full of people (there's even a handy character guide in the front of the book, but the characters are so vivid and real, you won't much need it) that really give the impression of, well, the life of a whole town.
Meanwhile, in terms of historical fiction writing, Vanderpool couldn't have picked a more exciting couple of decades to write about. There's war, depression, labor issues, prohibition, poor race-relations, orphan trains, immigration, and Hoovervilles. All of it filtered through the very relatable character of Abilene Tucker, who is, admittedly, still something of a stock heroine. However, she'll seem fresh enough to the younger set.
Overall, this is a fine novel that I really enjoyed reading, and it kept me interested enough to blow through it in less than 24-hours. Only time and a little perspective can really tell how a Newbery will do in the overall scheme of things, but I think that it is a fine choice, and congratulations to first-time author Clare Vanderpool, from whom I look forward to reading more.
A book about a girl I think you could get a boy to read, best for ages 10-14.