Book review by
Mary Cosola, Common Sense Media
Moonrise Book Poster Image
Boy reconnects with brother on death row in haunting tale.

Parents say

age 18+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 4 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Book written in verse, which will expose readers to storytelling through poetry. Provides insight into how the poor are often ill served by the justice system. Information about prison, especially death row and how the appeals process works.

Positive Messages

It can be scary to talk to loved ones about tough topics, but it's the right thing to do. Leave room in your heart to forgive people and let them back in. When things are difficult, it's important to keep some hope for the future. Small kindnesses can make a huge impact on someone's life.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Joe makes a few small missteps, but he's a good, sweet kid who takes a big risk to be by his brother's side in the days leading to his brother's execution date. Aside from Joe's mom, his family is loving and supportive. Joe, Angela, and Ed have one another's backs, even in the worst of times.. Their Aunt Karen has some issues with the kids, but she's there for them, providing the stability they need. Side characters like Sue, Nell, and Al are all supportive, good people who help Joe and his family.


References to a killing. Ed's face is battered and bruised in a mug shot.


Drunk teen girls flirt with Joe. Joe's attraction to Nell figures in the story. They kiss and make out, and there is an allusion to them having sex.


Infrequent strong language includes "s--t," "a--hole," "crap," "bitch," "Christ," "ass," "piss," "Jesus," "God," "hell," and "prick."


Some brands and media mentioned, mostly for scene setting, including, Walmart, Star Wars, Mitsubishi, Converse, Greyhound, Coke, Dr. Pepper, Lego, M&Ms, Kit Kat, Twizzlers, and Reese's Pieces.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Waitress smokes cigarette inside a diner. Teens drink beer a few times. Joe has smoked pot in the past. Joe's mom has serious drinking and drug problem. Joe's dad was a drug dealer.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Moonrise, by Carnegie Medal winner Sarah Crossan (One, The Weight of Water), is about a teen boy, Joe, trying to figure out how to best support his older brother, who's on death row. The book is written in free verse and covers the last few weeks leading up to the execution date. Alone in Texas, Joe has time to reflect on all that's happened in his young life. Issues of trust, love, and parental abandonment figure strongly into the story. Other good discussion points include the death penalty and the way poor people often are treated in the justice system. The free-verse style is an accessible way for readers to explore poetry as a means of storytelling. The book has some infrequent swearing ("s--t," "a--hole," and "crap"). A teen romance figures into the plot, but the kissing and sex are not depicted graphically. There's also some drinking and drugs, but it is more referred to than shown.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 18+-year-old Written byseemabookishgirl June 19, 2020


A heartbreaking free verse poetry by Sarah Crossan. I've been wanting to read it for a long time, but I've been hesitant. I'm glad I finally got... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byAnime.. June 11, 2021


Heartbreaking story of a boy who's older brother was framed for the murder of a police man and waiting execution. This is the only book that has ever made... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bymadzamy February 22, 2020

What's the story?

MOONRISE tells the story of 17-year-old Joe, whose brother Ed is on death row. With a date set for the execution, Joe must figure out how or whether to reconnect with Ed, who's been out of Joe's life for longer than he's been in it. Joe decides to make the bold move of going across the country to see Ed and support him in the weeks leading up to the execution date. His time alone in the small Texas town where Ed is in prison gives Joe time to reflect on his family dynamics and the love and bonds that endure. He also gets a firsthand look at the way the poor are treated by the justice system, how the media treats sensational crime stories, and the ripple effect incarceration has on families. And while Joe feels alone and unsure when he arrives to see his brother, he finds love and support in unexpected places.

Is it any good?

In this bittersweet, heartbreaking coming-of-age story, a teen boy gets reacquainted with his older brother, who only has two weeks until his execution date in a Texas prison. The poetic, free-verse style of Moonrise lets the words and thoughts of Joe, the main character, flow into each other in a dream-like way. With these snapshots of his emotions and memories, the reader gets an intimate, touching look at Joe's struggles.

The only downside is that the story is so internal that a feel for Joe's surroundings and the depth of some of the other characters are lacking. We do get to see how Joe and his siblings lovingly supported one another, given that their drug- and alcohol-addicted mom was largely absent or useless. The story provides a sobering look at the ripple effect incarceration has on loved ones and how the justice system treats the poor.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Deep, unhappy secrets are a common theme in young adult books and movies, such as Moonrise. Do you think this is a realistic portrayal of teen life?

  • How do you feel about novels written in free verse? Does it add to or take away from the story the author is trying to tell?

  • What are your most cherished memories of your loved ones?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age and family stories

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