CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 35 . . . . May 11, 2012
Under the Moon.
Markham, ON: Dancing Cat Books, 2012.
196 pp., trade pbk., $14.95.
Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
Let me be clear on this: I’ve never been much of a sleeper, even before Aunt Su died. My body’s just not wired for it. I wouldn’t call it insomnia, exactly – I’m just one of those people who don’t need as much sleep as others. When I was a baby, I would stay awake for twenty hours out of every day. Mom says she wanted to throw me out the window back then.
I like to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that’s a joke.
And as I got older, my sleeping just got worse. When I was a toddler, I’d stay up most of the night banging on the crib rails and screaming for someone to come play with me. After I outgrew my crib, Mom says she had to lock my bedroom door every night to keep me from wandering around and getting into trouble (and from barging into her room and waking her up). By that point, I’d exhausted her to the point of desperation. Guess I can’t exactly blame her or Dad for never wanting to have any more kids.
As soon as I was old enough to figure out how to dial a telephone, I started calling Aunt Su to talk. No matter how late it was, she was always happy to hear from me. She’d spend hours with me on the phone, helping me pass the time until I could fall asleep for a little bit. Now that I’m a teenager, I sleep less than ever. Until lately, one or two hours seemed to be all I needed. But Aunt Su was always there to help me through the nights. Then she died, and everything about my life flipped upside-down. Nobody else knows this, but in the nine days since she’s been gone the sickest thing has happened. I haven’t been able to sleep at all. Seriously, like not even a minute. And the really weird part is that I’m not even tired. How whacked is that?”
Lily is 15-years-old, and she is dealing with the recent death of her wonderful Aunt Su. Lily has never been great at sleeping, but now her lack of sleep has overwhelmed her – for days she has not been able to sleep at all. And according to what she’s read on the Internet, humans can’t go very long without ample sleep so she presumes she is doomed to an early death, probably within just a few more days. The only person who also seems to be up most of the night is Ben, a new guy at her school who works the night shift at McCool Fries. But, because he seems to have problems of his own, Lily can’t imagine he can deal with those and also help her.
Deborah Kerbel has given her readers an excellent coming-of-age young adult novel. One of the main themes is the premature death of Lily’s Aunt Su and how Lily deals with the devastation of losing an adult with whom she had a real connection and who understood her and accepted her, no questions asked. Lily learns a great deal and grows up within the space of the novel simply because she must confront her grief and learn to somehow move on with her life.
The theme of friendship and romance is also a key part of the novel. Lily has always been introverted and felt she has no need for close friends. To the teens around her, she appears snobby and stand-offish. When a relationship begins to develop with Ben, Lily learns that reaching out and helping someone else with problems can also be a method of coping with your own stress. Ben appears to have secrets from his past, but eventually Lily is able to unravel these, even as Ben keeps her company ‘under the moon’ and helps her with the rush of emotions which are exacerbating her natural tendency to sleeplessness.
Lily’s character is what makes this such a readable and memorable novel. Unlike the calm and serenity suggested by her name, Lily frequently acts and speaks without thinking of her effect on those around her. She is passionate, enthusiastic, and full of imagination. Her sense of humour is infectious, especially when she describes her mother as “General MacArthur”, or swears in French because it sounds so much more impressive, or points out that people around her often resemble computer fonts. “Aunt Su would definitely be ?????????. (That’s wingdings, in case you don’t know enough about fonts to tell.”) (page 5). While sometimes appearing determined and seemingly a teen who has it all together, Lily is often vulnerable as well as she copes with the feelings brought on by death in her family and a potential romance.
Kerbel’s secondary characters are equally interesting and complex. Lily’s parents do their best to help her yet neither seems to truly understand their daughter. A couple of schoolmates attempt to be friendly with the introverted Lily despite many rebuffs. And Ben Matthews is transformed from “Rude Dude” at the beginning of the novel to Lily’s good friend and love interest by the end. All of these characters seem true-to-life, and all play critical roles as Lily matures and learns important life lessons.
Kerbel adds touches of mystery along with the romance as readers learn just how Aunt Su died and what will happen to the estate she leaves behind – a tumbledown cabin at the edge of the lake. As well, readers wonder why Ben has moved to this small town and what secrets from his and his father’s past seem to be following them Along with readers’ enthusiasm for Lily, these elements are guaranteed to keep readers engrossed in the book from start to finish.
This young adult novel is the fifth from Kerbel, and undoubtedly it, like the others, will be nominated for awards. It is certainly deserving!
Ann Ketcheson is a retired teacher-librarian and teacher of secondary school English and French who lives in Ottawa, ON.
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