Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
From the flap: “In the valley of Fruitless Mountain, a young girl named Minli spends her days working hard in the fields and her nights listening to her father spin fantastic tales about the Jade Dragon and the Old Man of the Moon. Minli’s mother, tired of their poor life, chides him for filling her head with nonsense. But Minli believes these enchanting stories and embarks on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how her family can change their fortune. She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest.”
* * * * *
I admit that my first reaction to this book was “Ooo, look! Pictures! Pretty pictures!” I know, I am such a child. But come on! Full-page illustrations in a novel is such a rarity these days that I think it is worth pointing out, even if only in childlike glee. There are about 10 or so of the full-page pictures plus a host of section dividers and chapter headings all drawn by the author and printed in full color. And while they are not the focus of the book, I think that the illustrations are a natural outcropping of the exuberance with which the author took to her project.
And what was her project? you may ask.
In an exceptionally interesting Author’s Note (another rarity these days), Grace Lin talks about her childhood as a daughter of Chinese immigrants and as a kid with no interest in her parents’ cultural heritage. Her mother took to leaving translations of Chinese myths on her bookshelf, and while Lin was “unable to resist the lure of a good book,” she was somewhat nonplussed with the often stilted translations. As she grew to become an author and an artist, she set out to bring Chinese mythology to American/English-speaking children in a way that she hadn’t had as a child.
I think that she has done an excellent job in fulfilling her goal. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is both a novel about Minli, an inquisitive little girl who leaves home in search of wealth for her family after being inspired by her father’s (Ba’s) bedtime stories, as well as a frame tale, allowing the many secondary characters to insert a myth of their own. In the course of one novel, 16 (yes, I counted) tales are told in addition to the main adventure story, yet they never feel superfluous. In fact, they end up intertwining one with another and eventually tie into Minli’s journey in ways that are not surprising, but are pleasing nonetheless. I don’t expect too much of a light hand when it comes to foreshadowing in children’s novels.
And while I’m on the subject, what is the point of reading a children’s novel as an adult? Joie and I will probably do an entire discussion post on this subject, but let me just pick out one specific thing that I enjoyed about this book on an adult level. I was reminded of the value of a story. Obviously, by the fact of this blog’s existence, I love books, but sometimes in slogging through densely-packed novels or books of dubious merit, I get lost in the minutia and forget why I’m reading in the first place. Or, as with everyone, I get really busy with 20 zillion different projects, and I don’t find time to read for a while. And why bother when there is so much else to do? I think Lin says it best:
“‘Stories are not foolish,” Ba said again, in his quiet way.
“Says you!” Ma said. “Because you are the one who filled her [Minli] with them. Making her believe she could change our miserable fortune with an impossible story! Ridiculous!”
“Yes,” Ba said sadly, “it is impossible. But it is not ridiculous.”
I think this is the crux of what Lin is trying to say with Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Sure, this might be an impossible tale of a 7-year-old trekking through the woods on her own meeting dragons and kings and immortal tigers and climbing to the moon, but is it ridiculous? No. Stories matter not for what they actually say, but for what they teach us about humanity and ourselves. Even if it’s a children’s book.
So would I recommend Where the Mountain Meets the Moon? Yes, absolutely. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that, upon finishing, I immediately placed holds on 2 other of Grace Lin’s books. If that isn’t a recommendation, I don’t know what is.
Read Joie’s review here!