Friday, September 23, 2011

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Grace Lin's Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Little, Brown) is one of those books you start hearing about, and you don't have, and then later, you wonder what took you so long to get around to reading it.

First, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a gorgeous book. The cover is beautiful. The interior is beautiful. There is color and nice paper. Even as I read more books digitally--in order to keep from feeling like I'm going to be buried by falling shelves, to avoid dust and illness--there are books I would always prefer to read in treebook format. I'm glad to have held this in my hands.

I'm pretty sure I read Where the Mountain Meets the Moon in March, so I can't quite remember why I didn't totally love the first twenty pages, but I'm pretty sure it was random personal preferences in how I feel about particular words and sentence construction. Nothing exciting there. I do recall that I put the book down for a couple of days, and when I picked it up, I was sucked in for good.
My remaining impression is that WtMMtM is utterly charming--gently whimsical, adventurous without brashness, positive. Lin provides a bibliography of resources for the many Chinese tales that served as inspiration; I've seen a lot of people comment that even when they're familiar with the originals, they don't know how the original works into the plot. I think that's fascinating! Retellings are tricky, but it's also tricky to turn lots of influences into something new. Let's face it: we love particular tales so much that we've handed them down over and over, problems and prickles and all, so it's not easy to let go in just the right places to make something feel both fresh and timeless.

Minli and her parents live in the Valley of Fruitless Mountain, and they have to work hard to eat. Minli's mother wants more, and Minli wants more for her, so she sets out to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him to change her fortune. Before long, she's teamed up with a dragon and a talking goldfish, and before long, she's relying on the power of story to guide her to the end of her journey and home again. The power of story is a very nifty thing in this book. With no spoilers, let me just say that it's a book that manages to be both simple and sophisticated, that manages to address the mundane in a magical way.

Marketed as MG, the prose is accessible even for early readers (perhaps with an assist here and there), and there are multiple levels on which one can read the book, so it's a worthy pick for all ages.

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