Throwback Thursday: 3 Reasons to Love “The Girl Who Drank the Moon”

"The Girl Who Drank the Moon" Cover image--A girl with a small dragon standing in front of a full moon with origami cranes glowing and soaring around them.

“There is magic in starlight, of course. This is well known. But because the light travels such a long distance, the magic in it is fragile and diffused, stretched into the most delicate of threads. . . Moonlight, however. That is a different story. Moonlight is magic.”

(The Girl Who Drank the Moon, pg 25)

As October creeps in, I find myself thinking of old favorite reads. Anne of Green Gables. The Schmooney Trilogy. The Hobbit. So many wonderful adventures that fill me with a sense of wonder and wanderlust as surely as the crisp autumn air. But one of my favorites that I love to remind people of is The Girl Who Drank the Moon.

Similar to moonlight, The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill doesn’t simply contain magic, but is itself magic. It captivates the reader, seeps into the bones as it were, and leaves you full. It’s a middle-grade novel that I would recommend to everyone I know, whether child or adult.

3 reasons I love The Girl Who Drank the Moon:

1. The world itself.

Kelly Barnhill creates a whimsical world for the reader to enter.  The Girl Who Drank the Moon hosts a unique cast of characters, ranging from a grumpy swamp-monster to a madwoman in a tower. Each character is sympathetic in their own way, flawed, yet lovable. Even the main antagonists of the story do not escape Barnhill’s humanizing touch. Her vivid setting both welcomes and surprises the reader, with a volcano and bog adding colorful twists to the classic concept of an enchanted wood. The magic in the tale flows naturally through the characters and becomes part of the setting as well. Every aspect of the world blends together beautifully, in a quirky way that kept a smile on my face all the way through.

2. The style of writing.

Through shifting perspectives and a lyrical tone, Barnhill adds to the overall poetic style of the book. She writes with such a musical voice that the feel of the story is akin to a Studio-Ghibli film. Although the work is not illustrated, it becomes a visual experience; every detail clearly appearing in the mind. One of my favorite aspects of her style is an ongoing set of chapters in which mysterious, often unidentified narrators tell a story within the story. The mystery adds a sense wonder to the work.

3. The themes and the way they’re addressed.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon addresses the nature of sorrow and hope, the value of family, and the importance of memory in heartwarming and realistic ways. Barnhill presents memory as necessary to a person’s identity, despite its fleeting nature. She shows how family exists in many forms, and how hope leads us to triumph over obstacles.

The most incredible theme of the story, though, is Barnhill’s portrayal of sorrow. Each character handles their sorrow differently . Some accept but then ignore their sadness, others avoid and suppress their grief, and a few find sorrow all-consuming. Barnhill subtly shows that sorrow cannot be ignored forever. If suppressed, it lingers beneath the surface and threatens to boil over. If ignored, it overtakes. And if fed, sorrow becomes a black-hole, expanding and entrapping everything else around it.

Sorrow demands to be felt and to be addressed honestly, and it’s beautiful that Barnhill recognizes this need. In the end of her story, her heroes save the day, not by magically averting a crisis, but by facing it head on and dealing with the effects with hope and optimism.  Problems and grief are not sugar-coated but are shown to be real parts of life. The happily-ever after isn’t a typical, everything-completely-set-right ending, but is the more realistic acknowledgement that life is what we make it. Sorrow will come and so the only question is, how will we respond?

I definitely recommend adding this work to your reading list, especially if you enjoy light-hearted, whimsical tales of adventure. (Even though sorrow is a major theme in the book, most of the story is lighthearted, I promise.) And as you read it, I hope it encourages you to consider the world around you. To consider all the day-to-day wonders that remind us of the hope, joy, and beauty that surround us.

Karley Conklin

Karley Conklin is a librarian by day, a writer by night, and a bookworm 24/7. Her goal is to use the power of stories to remind others of hope and joy in a world that all too often forgets both.

4 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday: 3 Reasons to Love “The Girl Who Drank the Moon”

  1. I’ve heard of this book, but never read it. Those important themes, and the lyrical writing are enticing me to get it and read it soon! Thanks, Karley for a great review.

  2. I’m not far into the book yet but am surprised by the recommendation for Christians, as the witch is portrayed as good, and “big bangs” (an evolutionary idea) are mentioned in the same paragraph with suns, stars, black holes, and nebulae (actual creations in the heavens).

    I imagine you love this book for the feelings it creates in you as you read. I love many books that leave me with a good feeling. But in our culture where good is said to be evil, and evil, good; and where evolutionary myth is represented as truth, I would hope we as Christian writers would be careful about such details.

    1. Hi Joy, that is an important consideration! I think it’s important as Christians to also take into account our ability (and our children’s ability) to look at other perspectives without necessarily accepting them as truth. In the case of evolution, it’s a belief that many in our society hold, and I don’t think we need to reject a good story that contains good themes just because it doesn’t get everything right. The same with fantasy. The way that magic is portrayed in the world of this story, the magic isn’t evil because its being used for good and it’s a natural part of the story world. Whether that is something we as Christians can accept I think largely depends on whether we’re able to separate it as fantasy from reality. If reading about magic portrayed as a good tool in a fantasy world leads us to be accepting of darkness in the real world, then it’s a problem. But if we’re able to separate it in our minds, and to look at it for the themes it portrays, then I don’t think it’s wrong. I think it’s something we have to determine for ourselves on an individual basis, whether fantasy is going to be a stumbling block for us or for our kids. For myself, I’ve loved fantasy stories since I learned to read, and I think there are elements of truth to be found even in stories written by people of other perspectives. Engaging with those stories we don’t wholly agree with gives us a point of common ground for talking with those of other perspectives, while also giving a starting point for opening doors of conversation. To your point, the references to evolution could open the door for a conversation with our kids about why we don’t believe in evolution, (because God is the Creator of the heavens and the earth) , even as we talk about the things the story does gets right, like love and forgiveness and the importance of community and hope.

What Do You Think?