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Moonrise5/5

Moonrise

Sarah Crossan

Review

This is an amazing book. Sarah Crossan has managed to craft something beautiful out of the horror of death row; she tackles difficult issues of life and death sensitively and honestly. Using her customary poetry style and from the viewpoint of Joe Moon, she interweaves the last weeks of his brother Ed's life on death row with their memories of growing up.

It's a book full of contradictions. There's love in an abused childhood and dysfunctional family. There's humour mixed with pain. There's forgiveness where you would expect hatred. There's survival against all the odds; for some.

It's a book that moved me to tears and will linger long in my thoughts.

400 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Jane Welby, school librarian.

Reviewed by: Jane Welby


Moonrise5/5

Moonrise

Sarah Crossan

Review

This powerful and affecting verse novel takes and transforms the brutal reality of the impact of an execution sentence on a family. The narrative is seen through the eyes of teenager, Jo Moon, whose older brother Ed is awaiting execution on Death Row in Texas. It was Ed who looked out for Jo as a child, compensating for a rarely present, drug-addicted mother. But Jo has not seen Ed for the 10 years since he was convicted (wrongly) of murdering a policeman; now a date has been settled upon for the execution and this prompts Jo to move out to Wakeling, Texas where the state penitentary (known as the 'farm') is.

In an interview, Crossan makes the point that "a verse novel make readers feel successful because they can read it so quickly" and it is a relatively quick - but not painless - read. She goes on to explain that a verse novel works like a series of photographs (whereas a more traditional prose novel is like a film where the author has to show in detail what the characters are doing). Like a photographic image gradually developing in a dark room, a narrative emerges through a series of poems moving backwards and forwards in time. One minute we are back with Jo and Ed as children playing Star Wars games on the sidewalk, the next we are inhabiting the dreadful apartment Jo rents when he arrives, almost penniless, in Texas. Despite the chronological leaps, Crossan seamlessly holds the narrative together across time, locations and characters.

There are characters who move in and out of the story: as well as the mother, there are sister Angela and Aunt Karen who plays a forceful role in holding the family together after Ed's imprisonment. In Wakeling, there is kindly Sue, a waitress at Bob's Diner where Jo eats. And there is the complex Nell, with whom Jo develops a relationship but who harbours her own secret.

The poetry is spare and, whilst not devoid of poetic devices, these never overwhelm the voice or poignancy of the message. For such a terrible theme, the voice is understated and avoids sentimentality. Indeed the narrative is often shot through with unexpected moments of humour and tenderness.

The book offers a clear - but not over-stated - message about the profound issues around the penal system and capital punishment This is not an easy read and teachers who share this with upper secondary pupils will need to tread with care - but share it they should.

400 pages / Ages 14+ / Reviewed by Alison Kelly, consultant.

Reviewed by: Alison Kelly