Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Laugh with the Moon by Shana Burg
Thirteen-year-old Clare Silver is stuck. Stuck in denial about her mother's recent death. Stuck in the African jungle for sixty-four days without phone reception. Stuck with her father, a doctor who seems able to heal everyone but Clare.
Clare feels like a fish out of water at Mzanga Full Primary School, where she must learn a new language. Soon, though, she becomes immersed in her new surroundings and impressed with her fellow students, who are crowded into a tiny space, working on the floor among roosters and centipedes.
When Clare's new friends take her on an outing to see the country, the trip goes horribly wrong, and Clare must face another heartbreak head-on. Only an orphan named Memory, who knows about love and loss, can teach Clare how to laugh with the moon.
Told from an American girl's perspective, this story about how death teaches us to live and how love endures through our memories will capture the hearts of readers everywhere.
I had some reservations about this book when I first began reading it. It seemed like it was going to be about another spoiled girl taken away from her comfortable home and friends and pouting her way to the end of the story towards a Eureka moment when her beloved materialistic life is somehow forever changed.
Well, close, but not quite. Clare isn't as spoiled as she acts, but she is terribly alone and unhappy. She has been unable to come to terms with the fact of her mother's premature death, and is afraid of losing her in her memory as well. And she resents her father's seeming ability to just move on from her mother without even a look back.
But for all Clare is mad at her dad, a volunteer with the Global Health Project, and even gives his the silent treatment when she remembers to, she does begin to assimilate to her life in Malawi, and even makes a new best friend, a girl named Memory.
This is a wonderful story that deals with death, mourning and memory and the process that a 13 year old girl must go through when tragedy strikes her life. I thought Clare's journey through this process was so realistically portrayed , and I can say that from experience. My daughter lost her dad when she was that age and a lot of her feelings, thoughts and behavior were mirrored in Clare.
Actually the who book has a realistic feel to it. Burg's interest in Malawi began while doing research on the Save the Children program there and much of what she discovered can be found in Laugh with the Moon through Clare's eyes. Clare's observations and descriptions of the problems and deprivations, including death, that Malawian kids must deal with every day have a somewhat teachy feel to them but they are also really informative.
One of the things I did like and I think the readers will relate to is that for all the poverty and lack of books, technology and supplies, school turns out to be not so very different from school anywhere. There is Memory, always friendly and easy going; Agnes, who thinks she is the school queen bee; and Saide, the good looking boy all the girls are crushing on. But what is different, and what Clare learns about, is the idea of making do, which many school must do, even in this country nowadays. When the headmaster asks Clare to take over teaching English to the younger children, for instance, she is shown how to create alphabet letters for the class by baking the mud from a termite hill.
This trip proves to be a pivotal trip for Clare in many ways. Not only does she experience the disparity between how the native Malawians and the azungu (white people) are treated, but most importantly she discovers how Memory is able to deal the losses of parents and siblings in her own life.
But will Clare ever be able to come to terms with her mother's death so that she can follow Memory's philosophy: "Even the mourner must stop and laugh with the moon."
This is a wonderful middle grade coming of age novel that deals with some serious topics for kids that age. It is an energetic, well-written and compelling novel and I highly recommend it.
This book is recommended for readers age 9-12.
This book was purchased for my personal library.