This month we examine four books that focus on the theme, Sense of Place. Living in Hawaii, Michele feels particularly drawn to the idea of having a strong and grounded sense of place. For her, this notion means being deeply connected to the land and natural environment and having a feeling of “at homeness” somewhere. Recently her family lost their beach home to the powerful forces of lava in Kapoho, Hawaii. This brought forth many emotions as she believes this special home helped her understand what it means to have a sense of place. It is with this lens that she responds to the selected books given the theme this month.
MICHELE: Moonrise by Sarah Crossan altered my preconceived notions of what it means to have a sense of place. Through the unfolding of events and the main character Joe’s eyes, we learn that his brother Ed has been incarcerated and sentenced to death row. We experience Joe’s confusion and seek the answer to the big question that has plagued him since he was seven… is his brother guilty? Joe recollects bits and pieces of information and spotty details over the course of his life flashing back and forth with his current life events. My initial response left me wondering how the story connects to a sense of place. The accused crime took place in New York and the current action is set in Wakeling, Texas or the “Wakeling Farm,” the state penitentiary, where Joe’s brother is scheduled to be executed. Joe is disconnected to this unfriendly and depressing town, which exists because of the farm.
In terms of sense of place, this story provides an alternate way for us to think about how we connect to a place. I’ve always considered “place” to represent or depict a happy place, where one might feel comfort, joy and peace. However, this story provides an alternative viewpoint. Place may be seen with respect to a location where one learns about oneself, reveals truth and provides for growth.
Wakeling, Texas is an eerie place. Sue, the waitress at the diner tells Joe, “Wakeling wouldn’t last a day without the cons. Whole damn town is financed by the farm.” Joe rents a “slummy apartment” to visit Ed and finds the truth about the murder that Ed confessed to ten years earlier. Here, 17-year-old Joe comes of age and finds answers to the Thing. In Wakeling, he learns to survive on his own, rents a place to live, finds a job at the diner, falls for a girl his age and finds a nurturing motherly figure in his life that never existed before. In this strange and uninviting place, he finds out more about himself. He is forced to grow up and face the hard realities that life sometimes has to offer and, in the process, builds his confidence and ability to trust others. The story describes the tough realities of our justice system. This book should be read and paired with another story that has another view on sense of place.
YOO KYUNG: Thank you, Michele. I appreciate your personal connections in light of losing your beach home due to the volcano explosion. Even though I didn’t experience forced relocation like that, I see what it means to go through changes in my usual spaces. When I visit Korea, my sense of home is not the same as 20 years ago. Home means where I spend my time working, eating and doing things that shape my normal days.
Moonrise makes me think of the sense of places through several different characters. As Joe shares his childhood memories of Ed, a sense of place can also show a displacement. While Joe has good memories of home even though their mother was harsh and even dysfunctional, the big brother Ed creates a sense of home for his little brother. Ed goes through hardship that Joe cannot fully deliver as the first narrator in the story. While Joe’s sense of place didn’t change as dramatically as Ed’s did, perhaps losing his big brother will make a dramatic impact on redefining home and his community for Joe.
Moonrise displays what it takes to create a sense of home: relationships, affection, people and some level of comfort. Physical spaces do not always mean sameness. When Ed and Joe meet at the farm, plexiglas divides them. Because Ed is older, it was not an option for him to leave home to look for a place where he can find a sense of a new home. Joe says, “everyone, I loved walked out the front door leaving me alone, eventually” (p.111). Ed’s incarceration pulled old family members back together again (except the mom), creating another sense of home that is not totally new or old. Including his returned family members Sue, Al (lawyer), Father Matthew and even Philip Miller may help Joe to cope with Ed’s situation. There are so many layers to discuss in Moonrise. The story is more heartbreaking because it is written as a verse novel format.
Author: Sarah Crossan
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Date Published: January 9, 2017
This is the first installment of August’s issue of My Take/Your Take. Check back next week to see what books we’ve selected and to follow the conversation!