Moonglass by Jessi Kirby
Published: 2011, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Source: Library book
Goodreads · Amazon · Barnes & Noble
Joy had been right about stories making things more beautiful. I watched the gray surface of the water roll with the swells, and I came up with a new story. I told myself that maybe the years she was with us were like when the full moon shone for the mermaids, when they could walk on land and be with the ones they loved. And that maybe, like them, she'd had no choice but to go back.
Moonglass is a book that I probably would have never picked up had the Jessi Kirby hype been at such an extreme level for these past few weeks. What I really wanted to read of Kirby's was her newest publication, Golden, but unfortunately my library did not have a copy yet, so I decided to bide my time waiting for a copy of Golden by reading Kirby's debut.
It's been nearly ten years since Anna Ryan's mother died. Ten years since she trailed behind her mother on the beach, watching as her mother walked straight into the ocean, never to return. Since then Anna and her father have worked to achieve a semblance of normalcy in their lives. They appear to be doing all right when Anna's father suddenly announces that he's taken a job in the southern California coastal town of Crystal Cove. Anna is not happy about leaving the town she's lived in all her life, nor her friends and her grandmother, and giving up the daily walks along the beach where she last saw her mother.
As Anna adjusts to a new home, new friends, and a new beachfront view, she learns that there was a particular reason her dad chose to take a job here. It was at Crystal Cove that Anna's mother was raised and where her parents met one another. And perhaps it is in Crystal Cove where Anna can come to terms with her parents' pasts and finally be able to address her family's present and future.
First and foremost, Moonglass is a novel about grief. Although her mother has now been gone for longer than she was there for Anna, she remains an important part of Anna's life. Anna keeps up the nighttime walks along the beach, searching for sea glass by the moonlight, or moonglass, as she and her mother referred to it. In these past ten years, her mother's death has created a rift between Anna and her father. At first they talked often about her mother and what had happened to her. But over the years Anna simply stopped asking questions, also turning away from the mutual support her father could provide. Grief is ever present in the story, but is handled not as an outpouring of emotion, but as a constant longing.
Just as central to the story is Anna's father and the relationship she has with him. While Anna continues to feel confused and broken over her mother's death, she is hesitant to expose her feelings to her father. Consciously or not, Anna has difficulties expressing her grief in front of him. While the move to Crystal Cove initially helps Anna begin to accept the person her mother once was, it is an equally important factor in beginning to mend the rift that has developed between Anna and her father.
Contrasted with the strong focus on family bonds, Anna's friendships and romance are appropriately relegated to secondary concerns. Anna's relationship with Tyler is awkward and uncertain. There's never any indication that he and Anna are meant to be forever, but he nevertheless plays an important role in the story. Along with her friend Ashley, Anna begins the slow process of picking at the scabs of her grief and allowing it to become fully exposed in order to heal.
A dreamlike quality pervades the narrative, as Anna frequently allows herself to become overtaken by memories and fantasies. She finds it easier to explain her mother's death by putting it in more fantastical terms. What if she was a water elemental such as a mermaid? Why else couldn't she resist the siren call of the sea and remain with Anna and her father? At Crystal Cove, Anna is given the opportunity to discover who her mother once was, and to learn what could have caused her to become the person who would drown herself in front of her child.
In Kirby's able hands, the setting itself becomes like a character. Lush description and poetic language help the beaches of Crystal Cove come to life. The fluidity of the water, its ebb and flow, mirrors Anna's own conflicting desires. Kirby manages to capture not only the beauty of the ocean, but also the solemn vastness of it all. There's a sense of inevitability and darkness about the draw of the ocean, and also a renewed sense of life and hope. Beachfront oceans encapsulate Anna's life, an important part of her from before her birth to the present day.
Despite the strong relationships Anna forms, none of the characters themselves are particularly memorable. Sure, Anna is likable enough and her situation warrants a certain amount of sympathy, but it's almost as if the glass wall between her and her father also could prevent readers from better connecting with her. What made this lack of emotional connection so frustrating is that I never felt as though Kirby was trying to make Anna distant. For the most part she acts like a normal teenager, albeit one who has had to endure some harsh tragedies early on in her life. It is through her dreams that readers witness the emotional turmoil that continues to affect Anna's life, and even those are more memorable for their content rather than their effect on Anna.
On the surface, Moonglass seems like a simple enough story; it is by examining the story with a more critical eye that one can appreciate the great maturity and depth of Anna's story. Due to a lack of emotional connection, Moonglass will not be a favorite of mine, but I appreciate how Kirby handled some dark topics.
Rating: 3 stars