West of the Moon

Book review by
Sally Engelfried, Common Sense Media
West of the Moon Book Poster Image
Enslaved girl escapes master in riveting historical tale.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Though told with a folktale flavor, West of the Moon offers a lot of information about what it was like to live in rural Norway and to emigrate in the middle of the 19th century. For readers who want more information, the end includes an author’s note, a glossary, a bibliography, and pictures from the real-life diary that inspired the author.

Positive Messages

There's kindness in all of us, though sometimes difficult circumstances can make us hide it. Never give up, even when your situation seems hopeless.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Astri is intelligent, brave, and fiercely determined to free herself and her sister from their intolerable situations, but her determination can make her ruthless: She steals, lies, and leaves a friend behind to save herself and her sister. She feels remorse for injury and death she causes, and learns to follow the example of her sister, whose kindness brings happiness to everyone.

Violence

Astri is sold by her aunt to a goat man into what amounts to slavery. She is beaten, underfed, and not allowed to bathe. A character cuts a man's fingers off, and he dies from lockjaw. On board a ship to America, many passengers die from cholera.

Sex

Astri's master, who's much older than she is, threatens to marry her when she comes of age. 

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that West of the Moon is told with a folktale flavor and many allusions to Norway fantastical creatures such as trolls and changelings, but it's actually well-researched historical fiction. A girl is sold by her family into what amounts to slavery and is beaten and otherwise mistreated by her master. She lies and steals and hurts her master to escape and emigrate to America with her sister and eventually must come to terms with her choices. However, her bravery and honesty are immensely appealing, and the writing style is fresh and compelling. The endnotes offer readers information about the Norwegian folk wisdom that the author wove into this unique tale of hardship and redemption. 

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What's the story?

Astri is a young Norwegian girl sold by her aunt to an old goatman who lives in a remote cottage. She's beaten by him, barely fed, and not allowed to bathe. When the goatman makes clear that he will eventually marry her, Astri knows she must escape. She devises a plan to rescue her sister from their selfish aunt and escape to America, where her father emigrated some years ago. With each turn of events that seems as if it will inevitably thwart her plan, Astri alludes to a Norwegian folktale and describes the magic that rescued each hero. But, with each trouble she overcomes through her own wits and bravery, it becomes clear that Astri is a hero in her own right and needs no magical help.

Is it any good?

WEST OF THE MOON is a fascinating tale told from a unique perspective that will draw readers right into Astri’s difficult and very real situation. The allusions she makes to folktales might at first make readers hope this is a fantasy and that some magical force will help Astri overcome her hardships, but the real story that emerges through the references to trolls and magical princes is riveting and moving. Though Astri’s morals are often ambiguous, her determination to get herself and her sister out of increasingly bad situations is a force to be reckoned with, and readers will root for her and understand her motives.

Preus offers a unique look at the way folktales influenced rural Norway and how they were interwoven into the Christian doctrines and Western medicine that became more widespread in the mid-19th century. Lille Carre's woodcut-like illustrations that introduce each section add to the charm of the story.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the ambiguous moral choices Astri made to free herself. Can you think of other books wherein the hero does this? How about movies? 

  • What kinds of details show that this is historical fiction and not fantasy? Do you think it has more appeal for historical fiction readers or fantasy readers -- or both?

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