The Moon over High Street is a book that reminded me why I enjoy reading middle grade fiction. It's a deceptively simple little slice of life story, a window into the life of a boy named Joe Casimir and the people who either care about Joe or want something from him. Among the former are Joe's Aunt Myra, his Gran, and a family friend named Vinnie. Among the latter is a determined millionaire named Mr. Boulderwall. Mr. Boulderwall, it turns out, has big plans for Joe, whether Joe likes these plans or not.
The Moon Over High Street is set in a small town called Midville, "down southwest across the state" from Lake Erie, during a time when man has not yet set foot on the moon. Joe travels down on his own to visit his Aunt Myra after his Gran breaks her hip. Although Joe is an orphan, he's well-loved by his Gran, and soon finds his Aunt to be a kindred spirit, too. When he learns that a beautiful girl his own age lives across the street, well, life in Midville looks pretty good for Joe. Until the interference of Mr. Boulderwall leads 13-year-old Joe to have to make an important decision about his future.
I love Babbitt's writing, crisp and insightful, with just the faintest hint of satire. I knew that I was in good hands on page 5, with this passage:
"Everything on High Street was big, especially the trees. There were a lot of trees, and they were big and very beautiful indeed. But in spite of all that beauty they were like most other trees: In the fall, they dropped their leaves all over everything, making a deep, dry rustle of a mess that had to be raked again and again. They didn't care, and why should they? They had their own rules, after all. And anyway, a few of them were so old they'd been on that hill before there even was a High Street. Trees don't pay attention to streets. But people do." (Page 5)
I also love Joe as a character. He's the kind of kid who thinks things through. He's a little bit prickly sometimes, and occasionally insecure (like when he meets the pretty girl), but fundamentally solid. He feels real. Here's Joe thinking about Aunt Myra.
"Aunt Myra wasn't really his aunt. She wasn't anybody's aunt. But she was a cousin of his father's--the same age as his father--so Joe couldn't call her just plain Myra. His grandmother disapproved of young people calling older ones by their first names. However, calling her Aunt Myra--that seemed to be all right. Funny how sometimes things were all right even when they were wrong." (Page 10)
And here's Joe's reaction to seeing Aunt Myra's house:
"They bounced into the driveway and Joe found himself in front of a small clapboard house that was not so different from his grandmother's--a friendly little two-story house with a porch across the front and what might be a pretty good yard out back. It looked as if--well, as if it wouldn't want much from him. As if it would take him as he was. And he let out a long breath." (Page 22)
How can you not love a kid who reacts that way to a house? Some of the other characters, like Vinnie and Mr. Boulderwall, are a little over-the-top. But still delightful.
Longtime fans of Natalie Babbitt (author of 16 books for children, including the brilliant Tuck Everlasting) will be thrilled to learn that she has a new novel coming out. Though not, perhaps, as inventive as Tuck Everlasting or Goody Hall, The Moon Over High Street is a well-polished little gem of a book. It lets the reader step into Joe's shoes, and experience life in mid-century Midville, while conveying universal themes of belonging and staying true to oneself. Highly recommended for kids and adults, age 10 and up.
Publisher: Michael di Capua Books (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: March 1, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).