Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
read by Hope Davis
My geographically unstable childhood had, at least, one constant: heat. While it’s dry in southern California and humid here in Georgia, oppressive heat is such a part of my life that I am the most cold-blooded person you will ever meet. A friend, trying to explain how cold-blooded she was, held my hand as proof. “Your hands feel like mine do to other people,” she said. I’m very familiar with M&Ms liquifying in their shells, rearview mirrors melting off windshields, and the covers of paperback books detaching from their contents. One such book during middle school was a copy of Walk Two Moons. Stumbling across the audiobook at the public library, I realized I remembered very little about it, making it a perfect candidate for this feature.
Walk Two Moons follows thirteen-year-old Salamanca “Sal” Hiddle, who is traveling from Ohio to Idaho with her paternal grandparents to trace the steps of her beloved mother, whom she hopes to bring home on her birthday. To pass the time, her grandmother requests that she tell a story. Sal decides to tell the story of Phoebe Winterbottom, her friend from Euclid, Ohio, the suburban town she and her father moved to from Bybanks, Kentucky, after her mother left. Phoebe and Sal happen to share a missing mother, and as Sal tells the story of what happened to Phoebe’s mother, she is also telling her own story.
What nebulous territory is non-adult fiction! Amazon states that Walk Two Moons is recommended for ages 8 and up, which would classify it as middle-grade fiction, but the most recent edition is published by HarperTeen, and then it won the Newbery Award, which is for children’s literature, but is decided upon by a group of children’s and youth librarians. You see why I start coughing up a little fire when people describe young adult as a genre. Genres aren’t (or shouldn’t be, anyway) this nebulous or that definitive; they should be functional. I bring this up because I haven’t really dipped below young adult books for quite some time (save for The Song of the Lioness), and I forgot about the whole slice of life thing.
Novels for the younger set tend to ask their readers to heartily identify with their protagonists, and with that comes the mimicking of their own lives. For instance, in Alanna: The First Adventure, we wide-eyed children might not identify with Alanna’s world, but when faced with a bully, we get it. At heart, Walk Two Moons is not about the slice of life material that fills up its pages: it’s about two thirteen-year-old girls trying to find not only their mothers, but what their mothers mean to them. While Creech’s writing is lively and Sal’s voice dry and easy to listen to, I found myself getting a little impatient during the passages of her story about school and not about that. Some of that might stem from the fact that I was listening to the audiobook version, which meant I could not tear through this as easily as I could with a print copy.
But, then again, like gutters in comics, it’s all necessary. Sal’s character arc in Walk Two Moons is about coming to terms with her mother’s absence slowly, and, since the novel is all in her voice, she’s going to walk in circles to get there. I don’t think the ending would have the same emotional impact if this were a leaner text. Creech slowly and calmly examines the role of women in the household, the need for agency, and, in general, love: the love Phoebe has for her mother, the love Sal has for her mother, and the love Sal’s grandparents (who are a hoot) have for themselves. It’s very small, but very powerful. I’m hesitant to say anymore because, as unspoiled as I was, it hit me in my heart, but I will say that its Newbery is well-earned.
The audio production is quite spare—no music, thank God—and it took me a while to get used to Kate Harper as Sal. (I had a different version than the one pictured above.) The last first person audiobook I listened to was The Princess Diaries, and Anne Hathaway could vocally pass for fourteen. Harper is clearly older. I eventually began to conceptualize her as an older Sal retelling this story, which worked. Harper brings more acting into her performance than other audiobook narrators I’ve heard over the years, and that’s much appreciated, especially towards the end.
Bottom line: Walk Two Moons earns its Newbery with quiet, calm, and complex reflection on two different girls’ relationships with their missing mothers. Worth a read.
I rented this audiobook from the public library.