By Sarah Dessen Puffin, 2000 Review by Siobhan Mitchell on May 30th 2002
How can you resist an opening like
this? My name is Nicole Sparks. Welcome to the first day of the worst summer
of my life.
Just the first two lines is all it
takes to get hooked to Sarah Dessens Keeping the Moon, her fourth book
and arguably her most engrossing. I stayed up all night to read it and when I
finished, the ending was so satisfying that I regretted not an instant of the
rest of my groggy, sleep-deprived day.
Nicole Sparks or Coley as she is
called, is truly a unique and memorable heroine. Coley has spent most of her
life overweight and drifting from town to town with her over-ebullient yet
impractical mother. Even when things begin to look up for Coley; she slims down
and her mother becomes an Oprah-esque weight-loss guru, life is still more pits
than cherries. Her image in school turns from fat geek to slutty outcast. As a
result Coley has a cynical attitude towards everyone and everything, as so
obviously implied in the opening paragraph.
The book begins just as Coley is
sent off for the summer to her aunt Mira who lives by the North Carolina coast.
Aunt Mira and eccentric habits do little to make Coley feel more at ease, so
desperate she is to fit in for once in her new surroundings. Coleys first
morning in the house is comically described, where she wanders around trying to
make head or tail of the mysterious notes attached to random objects, such as
an index card affixed to the toilet reading, HANDLE LOOSE, DONT YANK.
Apparently, her spacey Aunt needs to be aggressively reminded of the minor
malfunctions of all the junk she collects her disorganized house.
Eventually, Coley finds a job and
friends in two older girls who work as waitresses in the same café with her.
Thus the scene is set for either the worst summer of her life, as she predicts
or the best and most memorable, as we, the readers, avidly anticipate.
Dessens novel is slim but packs a
lot of storylines and characters, all written in deft yet riotous fashion. Yet
somehow all the story threads come together and fit in to the overlying theme
concerning the repair of Coleys self-esteem and her gradual acceptance of the
good points about herself as well as the bad. For instance, Coleys two new
friends have their own problems they must deal with: a philandering, absentee fiancé
in one case and social nihilism in the other. Coley of course gets entangled in
to both of these friends melodramatic lives, which makes her examine her own
dysfunctional relationships. Coley has to come to terms with her Moms newfound
career and her Aunts oddness. Coley must also learn to accept the love of a
local boy while getting over her cynical view of people and their motives.
Does this sound like a lot of
emotional ups-and-downs for a small 228 page paperback? Luckily it all flows
together amazingly well and also makes for a very fast-paced and, as Ive said
before, very engrossing novel.
In her website, Dessen revealed
her own experience of working in a café while waiting for her big writing
break. She certainly writes a convincing portrayal of a cafés chaotic
atmosphere during peak season, when Coley is rushing around trying to wait on
five tables at once. This is a laugh-out-loud scene, of which there are several
in this book.
If one really wanted to quibble with Keeping the
Moon, the only thing that would come to mind is the incredible over-use of
coincidence to drive many of the storylines. Dessen also admits in her website
of being susceptible to flights of fancyand over-exaggeration. This tendency shows in almost too-tidy plotlines and
over-manipulation of characters actions. Coleys voice as a maladjusted teens
rings true but some of her summer experiences seem a bit far-fetched.
Overall, this is a small point
because the sheer pleasure of reading this book far over-powers any stretching
of reality as a plot-device. With Keeping the Moon Dessen has written a
book with warmth and humor that is far and above any other book I have read
I am a 27 year old PhD student in
neuroscience living in upstate NY. I am studying the effects of prenatal drug
exposure on the brain. My favorite authors are Diana Wynne Jones and Wilton
Barnhardt. I love reading coming-of-age books and watching the same type of
movies. I have a three-year-old son who loves listening to Harry Potter as a