HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: West of the Moon
Author: Margi Preus
Cover Illustrator: Lille Carre
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams, 2014
Related websites: http://www.margipreus.com (author), http://www.amuletbooks.com (publisher)
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 10 – 14
Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Preus, Margi. West of the Moon (published in 2014 by Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams, 115 \W. 18th St., New York City, NY). It is mid-nineteenth century Norway, and thirteen year old Astri, who will be fourteen in the summer, and her eight year old sister Greta live on the farm with their uncle and aunt and four cousins. Their mother died shortly after giving birth to Greta, and their father then emigrated to America with a promise to send money for them to join him. However, Astri has heard nothing from him. Now, her cruel aunt sells her to be a servant for a vile, old goatherd named Mr. Svaalberd, who makes her a slave and wants to marry her. Astri plans to run away, go back for Greta, and then take the two of them to America. Will she be able to escape? Can she find Greta? And if so, how will they ever get to America?
I really enjoyed Margi Preus’s Newbery Honor Book, Heart of a Samurai, so when Abrams sent out their new book catalogue for reviewers, I asked to review her historical fiction novel, Shadow on the Mountain, about a fourteen-year-old Norwegian boy named Espen during World War II. They sent me West of the Moon instead. It is based on a few lines in the diary of the author’s great great grandmother who emigrated from Norway to America around 1850 about asking a lonely young girl on the boat to be her maid. Preus then invented this story about the girl, weaving various Norwegian legends and folk tales into the plot. Astri tells these to while her time away or console Greta as they seek to make their way east of the sun and west of the moon.
The book presents a good picture of what the immigrant experience for Norwegians was like. Also included is some information on old health conditions, such as rickets, cholera, and tetanus or lockjaw, which were common at the time. There is a little bit of bad language (a few instances of the “h” word and the name of God as an exclamation). References to trolls, a book of spells and curses, and other aspects of Norse mythology occur. Instances of abuse, violence, stealing, and even an attempted rape are found. A death scene is somewhat gruesome, and the philosophy expressed gets a bit heavy at times. This is not to say that the book is filled with gore, but it does contain a good bit that is rather realistic, so it might not be appropriate for more sensitive readers or children under say ten.