Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers, 2009.
Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a charming read. I have had a lot of excellent reads lately. I am now almost anxious when I open another book knowing that at some point this streak of good fortune will end. It hasn’t ended with this book; though I did have some initial concern. I will blame this concern on just finishing (and still with the daughter) reading Frances Hardinge’s The Lost Conspiracy. Really there is little to compare the two reads but for the use of Lore and Story.
Both Lin and Hardinge’s books weave a culture’s folklore into their stories until the book itself becomes a story of legendary proportion themselves. Lore and “reality” become fused by pages end. Hardinge borrows ideas from various cultures, but her original story dictates how things meld and re-form. Lin draws from her Chinese heritage, as well as her American one. Lin writes in her “Author’s Note”, “The Chinese folktale and fairy-tale books […] I had read and imagined seemed to come alive again. But the stories continued to deviate, tinged with my Asian-American sensibilities.” Lin does the same.
The end products are different, different goals, etc. Where my concern resided was in the seamless experience in the movement of Hardinge’s interwoven work as compared to the rough beginnings of Lin’s. Part of the seamed experience of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is in the transition from A, going along, to B, here is ____’s story, and back to A. I could say that it is merely a visual adjustment. When B occurs there is a title for the story (centered) flanked by twin circular pictures/symbols. This kind of visual differentiation to the formatting is not unusual but rare enough to distract. It wasn’t necessarily a bad decision, and easily enough to adjust to by the end of the book. However, the bumps were not merely visual. The events leading up to the B, “A”, felt like “I need to lay some foundations, settle the reader into the setting, and get to B, because that is infinitely more interesting at this point.” A into B is “and now I am going to tell you a story.” The pacing was off to a difficult start in the transitions between layers/lines.
True, Lin is not creating some new and unfamiliar Island Culture. She can set the landscape, the characters, and the situation and mood with as much simplicity as she dare. And I do appreciate the spare and simple of this nevertheless complex book. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is constant. It is rhythmic and simple and quiet. It is lovely. And if you experience the unevenness at the beginning it fades, or we adjust. I think, however, it fades. The book is intent on interweaving that flawless connection and eliminating that invisible (and man-devised) line between ‘real’ and ‘imaginary.’ By the pages end, this is achieved, and the Lore is less “told” (B) than experienced. And the Stories (B) become younger. Characters are repetitive, connections are made and strengthened, a beautifully crafted story told by Lin. I only wish and wonder how it could have felt as comfortable at the beginning. May be it wasn’t supposed to; we needed the two wooden pieces (A & B) in order to more fully imagine the transformational powers of a story and its place in everyday life. I’m just glad I didn’t set the book down too early.
Like The Lost Conspiracy, there is the observation that aspects of traditional story are true. They not only share a Truth, but may have actually occurred in some fashion. Each traditional story would impart something of value and importance to the listener. This is not News; but how each story explores the idea is lovely. Where Hardinge goes for subtlety (she is writing a mystery after all), Lin is straightforward. The straightforward approach of Lin is a refreshingly unapologetic. Minli is open and brave and carried along by Faith. She knows there are clues to her quest in the Stories, and they guide her almost intuitively. She has chosen to believe in possibility. Even though she is not flat/simple, Minli’s arrival to the conclusion is anticipated. The transitions are transparent; as are her Mother’s, Ma.
Ma more than any one character is the unexpected treasure of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Ma is the life most remarkably transformed by Story. It may be that because I am an adult, I find her existence in this book a surprise; a fantastic one. Ma is embittered by her existence. She is not someone most would call “fortunate of circumstance.” Sure, she has a lovely daughter and a loving, hard-working husband; but what does that matter. She lives in a small hovel, has little food, rough worn clothes, no money, works all day for what little she has…and there is no prospect of change. But Ma is not left in the village. The story returns to Minli’s parents (who’d returned to the village after an attempt to pursue their daughter) throughout her adventure away.
As Minli becomes more and more a character of Lore, the parents solidify the story in Reality. Keeping the parents is a brilliant move to keep Minli from a Wonderland or Oz. The story is real, and magical, and thus possible. If the stories are possible don’t the Truths the Stories are sharing seem just as possible—especially when things are and feel as dire as the beginning situations are?
“Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a magical book that explores the power of story. It is about sacrifice, friendship, faith, the transformation of a journey, and the joys of home. More than anything, it is about thankfulness — about learning that one’s fortune does not need to be changed; that fortune is more than gold and jewels.” A Year of Reading (blog).
The end of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is hopeful. Realizations are met and happiness and contentment find their way into the home. Ma finally has a story she would tell, and it is her own. It is wonderful (252-4), healing. Minli has discovered that “one’s fortune does not need to be changed,” and that she should be thankful, and find joy in the everyday.
I had some difficulty with the end ending. I will call this the ‘Job Conflict.’ [And, yes, I know this is a Children’s Book.] The story would say that as long as you have X, that is all that is important, and one should find X fulfilling and life-affirming. And yet, at book’s end, blessings are abundant in the form of a material redemption. Perhaps the material is the concrete/metaphorical expression of all the riches gained spiritually, or within the abstract (immaterial) senses. However, it is hard to see the Joy that was found when the causes of hardship have since been removed. Or is the lesson: the hardships will find removal once the internal balance is restored? Maybe like any good legendary tale worth telling, there are more than a few possibilities; possibilities housed in the perspectives of the listener deciding what is ‘real’ and what is ‘whimsy.’
a few links to recommendations: