Monday, February 23, 2015

Book Review: Moonpenny Island by Tricia Springstubb (2015)

Flor loves her life on Moonpenny Island and she adores her best friend Sylvie, so it comes as a terrible shock to her when all at once, Sylvie is sent to live with her aunt and attend school on the mainland, and Flor's mother suddenly leaves home, ostensibly to care for Flor's ailing grandmother, but also to have some time away from Flor's dad. Despite a new friendship with Jasper, the odd daughter of a scientist doing research on the island, Flor feels completely alone as she tries to look after Sylvie's delinquent older brother, as well as her own teenage sister and younger brother.

This beautifully written novel is already my pick for the 2016 Newbery Award. The characterizations, poetic descriptions, emotional situations, and coming of age plot line all contribute to an overall mesmerizing reading experience. Moonpenny Island becomes a real place almost instantly, and the reader eagerly follows Flor from moment to moment, empathizing with her pain at the changes her life is undergoing and rooting for her happiness, her safety, and a return of her sense of hope. Flor is perfectly believable - neither too mature, nor too naive - and her concerns, though not entirely her responsibility, weigh heavily on her in a very realistic way.

Some of the highlights of the story itself are the slowly revealed secret of why Sylvie is truly sent away, the truth about where Flor's sister Cecelia goes when she is not home, Jasper's matter-of-fact outlook on life, including her own missing arm, the incorporation of Anne of Green Gables, Charles Darwin, and the theme of sight and eyes into the plot, and the depiction of the island's unique one room school. Every thread and every scene takes the reader one step closer to the perfect conclusion, which satisfies the reader without patronizing Flor or her feelings.

Tricia Springstubb's other recent novels (What Happened on Fox Street and Mo Wren, Lost and Found) have been enjoyable, but this one is a true masterpiece. The writing style reminds me of books by other wonderful writers such as Susan Patron, Joanne Rocklin, Katherine Paterson, and Lynne Rae Perkins. There are so many small, salient moments that are just perfectly described. Each word is chosen with such care, and the details are delivered with such precision that you almost miss how brilliant they are. Springstubb demonstrates the full range of her writing abilities in telling this story, and yet nothing she writes ever feels showy or over-written.

These are just a few of the gorgeous lines I highlighted as I was reading. First, here is the moment where the youngest member of a family known to be "trashy" demonstrates her undying love for the father no one else respects;

Jocelyn Hawkins, lone kindergartener, skips across the grass. She taps her father with her golden wand, then slips her hand into his. Her smile says, You are the sun and I am a planet. Don't try and tell Jocelyn her father is a loser. (p. 45) 

In this single line of description, Springstubb marks the passage of time in an interesting and artful way:

The sun's slipped a few notches, and when she stands up her shadow wears stilts. (p.55)

And finally, Flor's thoughts about Joe Hawkins's hair;

His curls are wild and thick, and this must be where the word ringlet comes from - slide your finger through one, and you'd be wearing a shiny band. (p.72)

Springstubb's insight into matters large and small make this book such a treat and the kind of story where readers can see little pieces of themselves. Kids who love realistic fiction will easily fall into the world of this book, and thanks to the excellent cover by Three Times Lucky illustrator Gilbert Ford, both boys and girls should be willing to pick it up and give it a try. I can't wait to see what wonderful accolades will befall this book this year - I sincerely hope they will be many.


  1. I've been seeing a lot of buzz about this one. Loved your chosen lines from the book. I've put this on the top of my TBR list. Thanks for sharing.

  2. This is a wonderful review. I'm reviewing this as well this week on my blog, but your review is much more complete. I'm limited to 200 words in the reviews I write for the SFBR, so this is a luxurious review. Nicely done.

  3. Oh my goodness, I am blushing away here in the middle of the Cleveland winter. Thank you so much, Katie. Hope you enjoy, Greg and Rcubed!