Monday, September 23, 2019

How High the Moon - Karyn Parsons

Summary: In the small town of Alcolu, South Carolina, in 1944, 12-year-old Ella spends her days fishing and running around with her best friend Henry and cousin Myrna. But life is not always so sunny for Ella, who gets bullied for her light skin tone, and whose mother is away pursuing a jazz singer dream in Boston. 

So Ella is ecstatic when her mother invites her to visit for Christmas. Little does she expect the truths she will discover about her mother, the father she never knew and her family's most unlikely history. 

And after a life-changing month, she returns South and is shocked by the news that her schoolmate George has been arrested for the murder of two local white girls. 

Bittersweet and eye-opening, How High the Moon is a timeless novel about a girl finding herself in a world all but determined to hold her down. (Summary and pic from

My Review:  I have a couple friends who are school librarians (because I’m cool like that, ya know?) and one of them was kind enough to share a list of books with me that she’d received due to being a librarian. We totally geeked out over it, and went over some other lists as well. One of my favorite lists was of the top books being checked out in school libraries today. It’s fascinating stuff, people. Some books just never get old, and some have resurgences. We had a good time looking through and finding books that we had loved as children that were still beloved today. This book was on a list of new and upcoming books, and when I checked it out and logged it on goodreads I can see that it hasn’t gotten a lot of traction yet, and so this is your chance to hop on the bandwagon before it leaves you behind.

There were several things I really enjoyed about this book. First off, I always enjoy looking into someone else’s world that I don’t normally experience. Ella, the main character, lives in a small town in South Carolina in 1944. This timeframe allows for many things to be going on in Ella’s life. It’s still the Jim Crow south, and so Ella gets bullied by other African-Americans for her light skin. Also, some of the children in the book have fathers who are off at war. Ella’s mother has gone to pursue a career in jazz singing in Boston, so she is left to live with her grandmother. One of her classmates is accused of killing two white girls. Ella goes to visit her mom in Boston and learns some new things about her mother. See what I mean? There is a lot to be covered in one girl’s life. As with many well-written middle grade books, I appreciated the way in which these situations are handled—children often don’t feel the need to beat around the bush, and so these issues were taken on directly. They were, of course, confusing for Ella (as they are for all of us, even as adults), but I appreciated the candor in which they were handled. And not all the questions were answered, which I also appreciated. Although there is some satisfaction in a book that neatly ties up all the loose ends, this is not one of those books and I liked that. These were complex issues that expanded generations and also many lives of the characters, and so to have them be unresolved or resolved in ways that weren’t necessarily how one would hope made the book feel realistic and the characters authentic.

The writing of this book was good, although I didn’t find it as effortless and flawless as some. That was okay, though. It certainly didn’t detract. It was just awkward at times. The story flowed well, though, and took the reader on quite the journey through the lives of the characters. I did feel, at times, that the author almost took on too much—like she had all these ideas of things that should be addressed in today’s society and perhaps could be done by addressing it in a historical fiction fashion, but with all of them together in a fairly short book it just felt like there were a lot of things brought up. I am deliberately being vague here because there is one particular nuance in the book that just added another layer to an already sticky situation. It didn’t detract from the book and I feel like it was a great thing to address, but there were so many things addressed that sometimes I worry about the efficacy of addressing All The Things in one short story.

I think this is a really good book, and one that will introduce a lot of issues and possible discussions in a natural way. I think that were a middle grade reader to read it they might have to go through it a few times to catch everything, and I think it is one that parents would like to be involved in when their children read it just because there are so many things going on that should be addressed if they haven’t been already.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: Although there is no language or overt discussion of sex, there are difficult issues discussed including racism, murder, same-sex attraction, and war. It may not be appropriate for all readers.

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