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Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the Forest, Xan, is kind. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon. Xan rescues the children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.
One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. As Luna’s thirteenth birthday approaches, her magic begins to emerge—with dangerous consequences. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Deadly birds with uncertain intentions flock nearby. A volcano, quiet for centuries, rumbles just beneath the earth’s surface. And the woman with the Tiger’s heart is on the prowl . . .
After you finish The Girl Who Drank the Moon, look for Kelly Barnhill's latest wondrous fantasy for young readers, The Ogress and the Orphans!
There is a witch in the woods. There has always been a witch.
Will you stop your fidgeting for once? My stars! I have never seen such a fidgety child.
No, sweetheart, I have not seen her. No one has. Not for ages. We’ve taken steps so that we will never see her.
Don’t make me say it. You already know, anyway.
Oh, I don’t know, darling. No one knows why she wants children. We don’t know why she insists that it must always be the very youngest among us. It’s not as though we could just askher. She hasn’t been seen. We make sure that she will not be seen.
Of course she exists. What a question! Look at the woods! So dangerous! Poisonous smoke and sink holes and boiling geysers and terrible dangers every which way. Do you think it is so by accident? Rubbish! It was the Witch, and if we don’t do as she says, what will become of us?
You really need me to explain it?
I’d rather not. She’ll kill us all or enslave us all, but in the end it doesn’t matter either way. We do our duty. We turn off our hearts. Nothing matters, child. You have to understand that.
Oh, hush now, don’t cry. It’s not as though the Council of Elders is coming for you, now is it. You’re far too old.
From our family?
Yes, dearest. Ever so long ago. Before you were born. He was a beautiful boy.
Now finish your supper and see to your chores. We’ll all be up early tomorrow. The Day of Sacrifice waits for no one, and we must all be present to thank the child who will save us for one more year.
Your brother? No. Of course I didn’t fight for him. How could I? If I had, the Witch would have killed us all and then where would we be? Sacrifice one or sacrifice all. That is the way of the world. We couldn’t change it if we tried.
Enough questions. Off with you. Fool child.
GRAND ELDER GHERLAND TOOK his time that morning. The Day of Sacrifice only came once a year, after all, and he liked to look his best during the sober procession to the cursed house, and during the somber retreat. He encouraged the other Elders to do the same. It was important to give the populace a show.
He carefully dabbed rouge on his sagging cheeks and lined his eyes with thick streaks of kohl. He checked his teeth in the mirror, ensuring they were free of debris or goop. He loved that mirror. It was the only one in the Protectorate. Nothing gave Gherland more pleasure than the possession of a thing that was unique unto him. He liked being special.
In truth, the Grand Elder had ever so many possessions that were unique in the Protectorate. It was one of the perks of the job.
The Protectorate—called the Cattail Kingdom by some and the City of Sorrows by others—was sandwiched between a treacherous forest on one side and an enormous bog on the other. It was from the bog where most people in the Protectorate drew their livelihoods. There was a future in bogwalking, mothers told their children. Not much of a future, you understand, but it was better than nothing. The bog was full of Zirin shoots in the spring and Zirin flowers in the summer and Zirin bulbs in the fall—in addition to a wide array of medicinal and borderline magical plants that could be harvested, prepared, treated, and sold to the traders from the other side of the forest, who in turn transported the fruits of the bog to the Free Cities, far away. The forest itself was terribly dangerous, and navigable only by the Road.
And the Elders owned the Road.
Which is to say that Grand Elder Gherland owned the Road, and the other Elders simply had their cut. The Elders owned the bog, too. And the orchards. And the houses. And the market squares. Even the garden plots.
This is why the families of the Protectorate made their shoes out of reeds. This is why, in lean times, they fed their children the thick, rich broth of the bog, hoping that the bog would make them strong.
This is why the Elders and their families grew big and strong and rosy-cheeked on beef and butter and beer.
There was a knock at the door.
“Enter,” Grand Elder Gherland mumbled as he adjusted the drape of his robe.
It was Antain. His nephew. An Elder-in-Training, but only because Gherland, in a moment of weakness, promised the ridiculous boy’s more ridiculous mother. But that was unkind. Antain was a nice enough young man, only thirteen. He was a hard worker and a quick study. He was good with numbers and clever with his hands and could build a comfortable bench for a tired Elder as quick as breathing. And despite himself, Gherland found himself developing an inexplicable, and growing, fondness for the boy.
Antain had big ideas. Grand notions. And questions. Gherland furrowed his brow. Antain was--how could he put it?--overly keen. If this kept up, he’d have to be dealt with, blood or no.
“Uncle Gherland!” Antain nearly bowled his uncle over with his insufferable enthusiasm.
“Calm yourself, boy!” the Elder snapped. “This is a solemn occasion!”
The boy calmed visibly, his doglike face tilted toward the ground. Gherland resisted the urge to pat him gently on the head. “I have been sent,” Antain continued in a soft voice, “to tell you that the other Elders are ready. And all the populace waits along the route. Everyone is accounted for.”
“Each one? There are no shirkers?”
“After last year, I doubt there ever will be shirkers again,” Antain said with a shudder.
“Pity.” Gherland checked his mirror again, touching up his rouge. He rather enjoyed teaching the occasional lesson to the citizens of the Protectorate. It clarified things. He tapped the sagging folds under his chin and frowned. “Well, nephew,” he said, with an artful swish of his robes, one that took him over a decade to perfect. “Let us be off. That baby isn’t going to sacrifice itself, after all.” And he flowed into the street with Antain stumbling at his heels, a perplexed expression drawn across his mouth.
NORMALLY, the Day of Sacrifice came and went with all the pomp and gravity that it ought. The children were given over without protest. Their numb families mourned in silence, with pots of stew and nourishing foods heaped into their kitchens and the comforting arms of neighbors circled around them to ease their bereavement.
Normally, no one broke the rules.
But not this time.
Grand Elder Gherland pressed his lips into a frown. He could hear the mother’s howling before the procession turned onto the final street. The citizens began to shift uncomfortably where they stood.
When Gherland threw open the front door to the family’s house, an astonishing sight met the Council of Elders. Their first sight was of a man with a scratched-up face and a swollen lower lip and bloody bald spots across his skull where his hair had been torn out in clumps. He tried to smile, but his tongue went instinctively to the gap where a tooth had just recently been. He sucked in his lips and attempted to bow instead.
“I am sorry, sirs,” the man said--the father, presumably. “I don’t know what has gotten into her. It’s like she’s gone mad.”
From the rafters above them, a woman screeched and howled as the Elders entered the house. Her shiny black hair flew about her head like a nest of long, writhing snakes. She hissed and spat like a cornered animal. She clung to the ceiling beams with one arm and one leg, while holding a baby tightly against her breast with the other arm.
“GET OUT!” she screamed. “You cannot have her. I spit on your faces and curse your names. Leave my home at once, or I shall tear out your eyes and throw them to the crows!”
The Elders stared at her, open-mouthed. They couldn’t believe it. No one fought for their doomed children. It wasn’t done.
(Antain alone began to cry, but did his best to hide it from the adults in the room.)
Gherland affixed a kindly expression on his craggy face. He turned his palms toward the mother to show her that he meant no harm. He gritted his teeth. All this kindness was nearly killing him
“We are not taking her at all, my poor, misguided girl,” Gherland said in his most patient voice. “The Witch is taking her.”
The mother made a guttural sound, deep in her chest, like an angry bear.
Gherland laid his hand on the shoulder of the perplexed husband and gave a gentle squeeze. “It appears, my good fellow, that your wife has gone mad.” He did his best to cover his rage with a facade of concern. “A rare case, of course, but not without precedent. We must respond with compassion. She needs care, not blame.”
“LIAR,” the woman spat. The child began to cry, and the woman climbed even higher, putting each foot on parallel rafters and bracing her back against the slope of the roof, trying to position herself in such a way that she could remain out of reach while she nursed the baby. The child calmed instantly. “If you take her,” she said with a growl, “I will find her. I will find her and take her back. You see if I won’t.”
“And face the Witch?” Gherland laughed. “All on your own? Oh, you pathetic lost soul.” His words were honey, but his face was a glowing ember. “Grief has made you lose your senses. It has shattered your poor mind. No matter. We shall heal you, dear, as best we can. Guards!”
He snapped his fingers and armed guards poured into the room. They were a special unit, provided as always by the Sisters of the Star. They wore bows and arrows slung across their backs and short, sharp swords sheathed at their belts. Their long braided hair looped around their waists where it was cinched tight—a testament to their many years of contemplation and combat-training at the top of the Tower. Their faces were implacable as stones, and the Elders, despite their power and stature, edged away from them.
“Remove the child from the lunatic’s clutches and escort the poor dear to the Tower,” Gherland ordered. He glared at the mother in the rafters, who had gone suddenly very pale. “The Sisters of the Star know what to do with broken minds, my dear. I’m sure it hardly hurts at all.”
The Guard was efficient, calm, and utterly ruthless. The mother didn’t stand a chance. Within moments, she was bound, hobbled, and carried away. Her howls echoed through the silent town, ending suddenly when the Tower’s great wooden doors slammed shut, locking her inside.
The baby, on the other hand, once transferred into the arms of the Grand Elder, whimpered briefly and then turned her attention to the sagging face in front of her, all wobbles and creases and folds. She had a solemn look to her—calm, skeptical, and intense, making it difficult for Gherland to look away. He deepened his frown and leaned in close, wrinkling his brow. The baby stuck out her tongue.
Horrible child, Gherland thought. He didn’t care for her impudent face, and he certainly didn’t like that curious birthmark on her forehead in the shape of a crescent moon. Common lore insisted that children born with such a mark were blessed--but the baby’s mother had a similar mark, and look what was happening to her. Gherland was not sorry that this child, in particular, was heading on that long journey into the woods, from which she would never return. The last thing he needed was anyone in his town developing anything resembling spunk.
“Gentlemen,” Gherland said with all the ceremony he could muster, “it is time.” The baby chose this particular moment to let loose a large, warm, wet stain across the front of Gherland’s robes. He pretended not to notice, but inwardly he fumed.
She had done it on purpose. He was sure of it. What a revolting baby.
The procession was, as usual, somber, slow, and insufferably plodding. Gherland felt he might go mad with impatience. Once the Protectorate’s gates closed behind them, though, and the citizens returned with their broods of children to their sad little homes, the Elders quickened their pace.
“But why are we running, Uncle?” Antain asked.
“Hush, boy!” Gherland hissed. “And keep up!”
No one liked being in the forest, away from the Road. Not even the Elders. Not even Gherland. The area just outside the Protectorate walls was safe enough. In theory. But everyone knew someone who accidentally wandered too far. And fell into a sink hole. Or stepped in a mud pot, boiling off most of their skin. Or wandered into a hollow where the air was bad, and never returned. The forest was dangerous.
They followed a winding trail to the small hollow surrounded by five ancient trees, known as the Witch’s Handmaidens. Or six. Didn’t it used to be five? Gherland glared at the trees, counted them again, and shook his head. There were six. No matter. The forest was just getting to him, that was all. Those trees were almost as old as the world, after all.
The space inside of the trees was mossy and soft, and the Elders laid the child upon it, doing their best not to look at her. They lifted their gaze to the craggy branches and the slivers of sky peeking between the leaves. They had turned their backs on the child and started to hurry away when their youngest member cleared his throat.
“So. We just leave her here?” Antain asked. “That’s how it’s done?”
“Yes, nephew,” Gherland said. “That is how it’s done.” He felt a sudden wave of fatigue settling on his shoulders like an ox’s yoke. He felt his spine start to sag.
Antain pinched his neck--a nervous habit that he couldn’t break. “Shouldn’t we wait for the Witch to arrive?”
The other Elders fell into an uncomfortable silence.
“Come again?” Elder Raspin, the most decrepit of the Elders, asked.
“Well, surely,” Antain’s voice trailed off. “Surely we must wait for the Witch,” he said quietly. “What would become of us if wild animals came first and carried her off?”
The other Elders stared at the Grand Elder, their lips tight.
“Fortunately, nephew,” he said quickly, leading the boy away, “that has never been a problem.”
“But--” Antain said, craning his neck back.
“But nothing,” Gherland said, a firm hand on the boy’s back, striding quickly down the well-trodden path.
And, one by one, the Elders filed out, leaving the baby behind.
They left knowing--all but Antain--that it was not a matter of if the child were eaten by animals, but rather that she surely would be.
They left her knowing that there surely wasn’t a Witch. There never had been a Witch. There was only a dangerous forest and a single road and a thin grip on a life that the Elders had enjoyed for generations. The Witch--that is, the belief in her--made for a frightened people, a subdued people, a compliant people. They lived their lives in a saddened haze, the clouds of their grief numbing the senses and dampening the mind. It was terribly convenient to the Elders’ unencumbered rule. Unpleasant, too, of course, but that couldn’t be helped.
They heard the child whimper as they tramped through the trees, but the whimpering soon gave way to the swamp sighs and bird song and the woody creaking of the trees throughout the forest. And each Elder felt as sure as sure could be that the child wouldn’t live to see the morning, and that they would never hear her, never see her, never think of her again.
They thought she was gone forever.
They were wrong, of course.
Winner of the 2017 Newbery Medal
The New York Times Bestseller
An Entertainment Weekly Best Middle Grade Book of 2016
A New York Public Library Best Book of 2016
A Chicago Public Library Best Book of 2016
An Amazon Top 20 Best Book of 2016
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2016
A School Library Journal Best Book of 2016
Named to KirkusReviews’ Best Books of 2016
2017 Booklist Youth Editors’ Choice
“Impossible to put down . . . The Girl Who Drank the Moon is as exciting and layered as classics like Peter Pan or TheWizard of Oz.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“A gorgeously written fantasy about a girl who becomes “enmagicked” after the witch who saves her from death feeds her moonlight.”
“[Barnhill’s] next middle grade sensation.”
“With compelling, beautiful prose, Kelly Barnhill spins the enchanting tale of a kindly witch who accidentally gives a normal baby magic powers, then decides to raise her as her own.”
—EW.com, The Best Middle-Grade Books of 2016
« “Guaranteed to enchant, enthrall, and enmagick . . . Replete with traditional motifs, this nontraditional fairy tale boasts sinister and endearing characters, magical elements, strong storytelling, and unleashed forces.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
« “Rich with multiple plotlines that culminate in a suspenseful climax, characters of inspiring integrity, a world with elements of both whimsy and treachery, and prose that melds into poetry. A sure bet for anyone who enjoys a truly fantastic story.”
—Booklist, starred review
« “An expertly woven and enchanting offering.”
—School Library Journal, starred review
« “Barnhill crafts another captivating fantasy, this time in the vein of Into the Woods . . . Barnhill delivers an escalating plot filled with foreshadowing, well-developed characters, and a fully realized setting, all highlighting her lyrical storytelling.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
« “Barnhill writes with gentle elegance, conveying a deeply emotional and heartrending tale with accessible, fluid prose. Characters are skillfully developed: the heroes are flawed, the villains are humanized, and they are forgiven for sins they may or may have not intended. The swamp monster and dragon provide plenty of moments of humor to leaven the pathos, while the setting is infused with fairy tale elements, both magical and menacing, and given a tragic history. Fans of Barnhill’s The Witch’s Boy and Iron Hearted Violet will find similar intersections of love, loss, and identity here.”
—Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, starred review
« “The Girl Who Drank the Moon takes a probing look at social complexity and the high cost of secrets and lies, weaving multiple perspectives, past and present, into one cleverly unfolding fairy tale. Barnhill crafts wonderfully imperfect characters with poetic prose, warmth and wit. The resiliency of the heroes may be partly because of magic, but also because of critical thinking, empathy, deep love and the strength of family in all its unconventional manifestations. Thoughtful and utterly spellbinding.”
—Shelf Awareness for Readers, starred review
“Heart-stopping and heart-rending . . . Good and evil square off in this highly original fantasy that satisfies in time-honored ways . . . Poetic turns of phrase, intriguing subplots and fast pacing yield a rich mix of suspense, surprise and social commentary, splendidly exploring ‘memory, hope, love, and the weight of human emotion.’”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Good in the best of ways: full of adventure and compelling characters and mystery and surprisingly poetic language. And it’s pushed me close to tears more than a few times.”
—Jesmyn Ward, National Book Award winner
“Magic, witches, moonlight, starlight, a baby dragon and baby sacrifice swirl together in this spell-binding high fantasy.”
—San Francisco Chronicle (Holiday Roundup)
“If your kids have already read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and they can’t get enough of Neil Gaiman, they’re going to love Kelly Barnhill’s new fantasy, The Girl Who Drank the Moon.”
—St. Paul Pioneer Press
“The Girl Who Drank the Moon is a story of love, curiosity and the magic of the everyday world . . . this is a novel about the journey, not the destination — one filled with wisdom and heart.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Magic, witch-lore, an evil Council of Elders, a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, twists and turns and an utterly fantastical world—this book keeps you hooked!”
—Kim Childress, book editor of Girls’ Life
“An involving—and often wondrously strange—adventure. Though aimed at middle grade readers, this has plenty of marvels and tongue-in-cheek moments to keep older readers entertained as well.”
“Infused with unique forms of magic. Philosophy and plots intertwine, woven together with bejeweled language and themes of love, secrets, power, belonging and family.”
“A fresh take on fantasy.”
—Iowa City Press-Citizen
“This story of a girl who gains magical powers after a witch saves her life by ‘feeding her moonlight’ has drawn comparisons to The Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan.”
—New York Post
“There’s much to love about this fast-paced story. The characters are charming, good and evil battle it out in scenes that keep the pages turning as the story builds to its climax, and the real witches come out of the woodwork. There are plenty of surprises as the author wends her way to a conclusion, leaving not a single stone unturned. Children, and adults too, will be “enmagicked” by this addictive tale.”
“A delightful read, especially for upper elementary and middle schoolers who love traditional fantasy.”
—Providence Journal (Providence, RI)
“Refreshing, magical, oftentimes comical, and full of adventure and heart, The Girl Who Drank the Moon soars off the pages. Readers will be fascinated in a spell that will sing to them and wrap them up in a finely woven tapestry of fantasy and magic. Few storytellers have the gift of so deftly arranging a fantasy or building a world so magical that readers want to live there, but Kelly Barnhill is the best at her craft. If you loved The Witch’s Boy, you will love The Girl Who Drank the Moon even more . . . An instant classic, a book that today's children will read someday to their children. Highly, highly recommended. I would recommend this book over all others this year. It is honestly the best book I’ve read in years.”
—El Paso Times
“Kelly Barnhill is an artist, weaving a tightly-developed world from prose that reads like poetry. The Girl Who Drank the Moon is high fantasy at its finest and belongs on the same shelf with legendary tales like The Once and Future King, The Hobbit, Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising Sequence, and Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain.”
—Nerdy Book Club
“The Girl Who Drank the Moon is pure magic . . . Barnhill weaves together poetic prose—along with a few actual poems—well-developed characters, a perfectly escalating plot, and a beautiful message to create the extraordinary tapestry of this nontraditional fairy tale that will engage readers of any age.”
—Barnes Noble Kids Blog
“This entrancing novel is full of beautiful detail with a very well-crafted plot line and exquisitely developed characters. Light and dark magic combine to weave a complex, twisting vine of a tale.”
“From pure hearted characters to beautifully detailed backdrops, everything about this story is truly mystical . . . The Girl Who Drank the Moon is an unforgettable story that is so beautifully written it must have taken magic to write it.”
—YM2 (Young Mensan BookParade e-zine)
“It is the strong element of emotional entanglement between parents and children that sets this book apart from the bursting shelves of middle grade fantasy. Barnhill does an excellent job of reminding us that, while sorrow can be a dangerous and overwhelming force, love is an even greater magic.”
“Just lovely—a worthy precursor to authors like Gaiman and LeGuin. Barnhill has a knack for telling a complex story in deceptively simple, lyrical fairy tale language, and the way she teases the individual threads of this story together—the brave boy, the magical girl, the witch’s forgotten history, the mad mother—is brilliant. The characters—minor and major—live and breathe; the world of the story feels sturdy enough to stand on its own . . . go ahead and add The Girl Who Drank the Moon to your reading list.”
—home |school | life magazine
“This fantasy book about the unexpected power of magic, love and sorrow is told with beautiful prose and some humor . . .”
—Free Lance-Star (Ferdericksburg, MD)
“Get lost in the magic of a middle grade read with The Girl Who Drank the Moon. Beautifully written and poetic, this is a tale that defines magic and love in a whole new light . . . Kelly Barnhill has a magical way of bringing a story and moral to light, while delicately dealing with deep issues. Perfectly suited for young readers, this book is also entertaining for an older reading audience.”
—Independent Voice (Dixon, CA)
“A page turner for all ages. A rich cast of characters that includes a highly intelligent swamp monster, a tiny dragon, and a child imbued with powerful magic form the heart of this enchanting middle grade novel from Barnhill, who weaves an engrossing plot involving family, truth, and sacrifice.”
—Tullahoma News(Tullahoma, TN)
“The Girl Who Drank the Moon is a marvelous children’s story about fear, secrets, and the power of love . . . a wonderful book that older children and teens should enjoy reading.”
—Portland Book Review
“Sure to delight readers of other fairy tale-style stories like Neil Gaiman’s Stardust with its deliberate mixture of allusions, satire, and playfulness.”
—Midwest Book Review
“This novel is as magical as the magic that threatens to burst from Luna. There is no way to escape its touch as you dream through the pages. It has everything a good story needs – a mystery that is not figured out by the reader until the very end; several unlikely heroes, as well as an unconventional family; so much love mixed with so much pain and sorrow; and magic so unbelievable, it becomes as believable as the age of its painter. Read this book.”
—Geeks of Doom
“A fantasy set around Luna, a girl whose magic begins to emerge on her thirteenth birthday, set in a rich fantasy world.”
—Asheville Citizen-Times (Asheville, NC)
“A misunderstood witch, a poetry-spouting swamp monster, a tiny dragon with a simply enormous heart, a girl fed from moonlight and a town filled with tragic sadness all come together in this brilliant new novel from the author of Witch’s Boy. Fans of Maile Meloy, Alice Hoffman and Shannon Hale will devour this sad, funny, charming, clever stand-alone fantasy adventure.”
—Angie Tally of The Country Bookshop for Pinestraw Magazine (Southern Pines, NC)
“A spellbinding book that will keep you at the edge of your seat . . . Not only does the story show compassion and hope, it shows unconditional love . . . Look for this book to become a classic . . .”
—Young Voices of New York
“A modern fable about a witch named Xan, who accidentally gives a baby moonlight instead of starlight, and the child, Luna, who grows up to be magical and dangerous. Factor in a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, a swamp monster, a not-so dormant volcano, and a mysterious woman with a tiger’s heart and, well, you’ve got something truly magical.”
—NW Book Lovers
“Barnhill’s impeccable writing makes for effortless reading, while she spins her plot with perfect pacing. Packed within the story are some tremendously thought-provoking themes which elevate this quite beyond an ordinary fantasy and make it a superb choice for a middle-grade-and-older book club.”
- On Sale
- Apr 30, 2019
- Page Count
- 400 pages
- Algonquin Young Readers