Friday, 24 February 2012

Man in the Moon by Dotti Enderle. Reviewed by Paeony Lewis

I'm often wary of reviewing books written by friends. For me the book has to be particularly accomplished because otherwise I’m plagued with misgivings. I worry that I'm wearing rose-tinted spectacles. Am I overlooking faults because I know the angst and sweat that went into the book? Or is it the opposite? Can I be too critical?

So this is the first time on the Awfully Big Reviews Blog that I’ve reviewed a book written by a friend. It’s a favourite and deserves to be known in the UK. Man in the Moon by Dotti Enderle is what the Americans term a ‘mid grade’ (ages 8-12), although in this case it’s more suitable for confident readers aged ten and over (and adults too).

The cover illustration of Man in the Moon may hint at cool evening breezes, but the pages ooze with the dusty heat of a relentless Texan summer. Set in 1961, this short, chatty and poetic story is told from Janine's point of view and you can hear her drawl. She’s a young girl trapped in a life of rural poverty on an isolated Texan farmstead. Janine makes the most of her small world and is not unloved, but an unemployed father, an anxious mother and seriously sick brother stifle her hopes for a better future.

When it seems as though all life has been sucked dry by the heat, illness and poverty, a shabby man appears. The mysterious Mr Lunas intrudes on family life and is a catalyst for change. Like the moon, Mr Lunas waxes and wanes, until a new moon brings new hope. Is it magic? A miracle? Or a series of coincidences? Readers are allowed to form their own conclusions

This is a novel told to us by a child who has a rich and naïve awareness of words. However, all she knows is what she experiences in her tiny corner of Texas or sees on TV. Thus sometimes the reader must read between the lines.

I can’t make up my mind what appeals most to me about this story. Is it the whisper of quiet magic that runs through the tale? Or is it the evocative reality of a rural Texas childhood from the 1960s? It’s a life the author knows intimately. A while back, when telling me about her childhood and games, Dotti wrote:

"I did live on a farm for about a year when I was eight. That's the farm I had in mind when I wrote the book. And we even had that old abandoned flatbed truck piled with junk nearby. We found an ancient wooden leg (complete with leather foot), but unlike Janine, my mother let us bring it into the yard, and we played with it for months. We named it Charlie."

Man in the Moon has won awards within the state of Texas and deserves wider readership. And I’m not saying that because the author is a friend. Honest!

And here’s a short excerpt from the very start of the novel:

Phase One – New Moon

I sat in the shadows of my bedroom, staring through the window screen. Except for an occasional lightning bug twinkling by, the night was black as molasses, and the air as thick. I prayed for just one breeze to blow through and cool the sweat on my face. But everything was still – dead still – like right before a storm.

… That’s when something moved in the cornfield. I heard it, just on the other side of the chicken coop…

Man in the Moon by Dotti Enderle
Originally published by Delacorte Press in the US, 2008. Also available on Kindle.

Reviewed by Paeony Lewis



Penny Dolan said...

Agree about it being hard to recommend the book of someone you know - but Man in the Moon sounds a magical and - as you say - evocative story! (Have seen Dotti's name around but was never sure if it was a pen-name.)

Paeony Lewis said...

Thanks, Penny. Yes, Dotti is real! And she is even descended from Mark Twain.

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