The Moon by Night by Madeline L’Engle
originally published 1963
Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 18th printing, 1997
Genre: Juvenalia, young adult
Synopsis & Review: It’s been a year, and things are changing for the Austin family. Their Aunt Elena, widowed in Meet the Austins, is marrying their Uncle Douglas, and the two will be adopting Maggie and moving to California. The Austins themselves will be moving back to New York City, so that their father can pursue research. To cushion the blow of leaving their beloved home and pets in Thornhill, Connecticut, the Austins head out on a camping trip across the continent, to California and back. Along the way, they encounter interesting people and the beauties of North America. And Vicky, blossoming after an awkward pre-adolesence, begins attracting attention.
Like a moth to a flame, Zachary Grey follows Vicky across the country, playing Hares and Foxes, despite her parents’ objections. Zack is a troubled young man, living on borrowed time, and he alternately thrills and confuses Vicky. On the way back east, she also meets Andy Ford in Yellowstone, a bright, considerate young man who makes plans to meet up with her in New York. Feeling pressured by her family on one side, and strange young men on the other, Vicky struggles to find her own identity and assert it.
One thing I can hardly bear is to read the first book in a series and not be immediately able to continue it, so when I decided to request Meet the Austins from the Multnomah County Library, I also requested The Moon by Night. Both arrived just in time for Dewey’s Read-a-Thon, and were my fallback un-read YA books. You know, for in case I needed something lighter. And it was a lot lighter a read than Meet the Austins, for me at least.
I came close to disliking the Austin family at times in this novel, or at least, barely tolerating them. All the good qualities I enjoyed from Meet the Austins (yes, I read TMbN too, and know that “comparisons are odious”) are magnified to such an extent that they become cloying, suffocating–OH MY GOD, THAT’S JUST HER GENIUS. I’m so daft. Is it possible that L’Engle deliberately does this to mimic the feelings of adolescence (Vicky’s in her “difficult” year) when all the things you love or don’t mind about your family become too much, and you feel the need to burst out away from them, and it just tears you apart because you love them still? I wouldn’t be at all surprised.
Anyways, Vicky’s also dealing with some issues that come with being part of the post-war, Cold War generation, the first to mature under the shadow of The Bomb. The passages in which she struggles with the anxieties and horrors of her situation just might be some of the most powerful. They’re entirely relevant for children worrying over the post-9/11, War Against Terror, global warming, economic crisis world. (Unfortunately, other aspects of the book seem really dated: certain slang, Daddy’s attitude about women wearing pants–it’s a camping trip, for crying out loud–even the particulars of camping.)
Taking that epiphany of mine into account, it’s a more brilliant book than I would have otherwise thought, but I still didn’t like it as much as MtA. But, it does feature burgeoning romance. Vicky is a highly introspective narrator, so though she and the rest of the Austins do have some dramatic adventures, the feel of the book is very subdued and thoughtful.
Caveat: Books like this, and when Meg starts getting pretty, warped me! I was convinced that I, too, was an ugly duckling, and would grow into something presentable. And it doesn’t happen!
Read also: A Wrinkle in Time and Meet the Austins by Madeline L’Engle, Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright, Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
Cover: Basically the same objectionable cover as Meet the Austins. Do publishers not understand that a dorky cover can put off children?Let’s see, the Sixties-looking one with the moon behind trees is cool, and I like this newer imprint with the bright colors, and there’s that Seventies hair (Vicky here looks like Kim Kelly in Freaks & Geeks), but what the HELL is going on in that last one? GROSSOCITY.
But I kept looking at that enormous stretch of land, stretching out to eternity so you couldn’t stay afraid because fears were so small they just lost themselves. The only other place I know where you can see that far and makes you feels the same way is the ocean, which is why I went down to the beach the day of the wedding. In Texas one thing that seemed to make the distance look even distanter was the telephone poles, stretching out and out and out; the only reason you couldn’t go on seeing them forever was that they got so tiny in the distance they finally got too small to see and just merged in with the land. That’s perspective, Uncle Douglas says. It seems very mysterious to me.