I read forty-seven books in 2020, and my last read of the year ended up one of my top two. I knew I’d like Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon (Algonquin Young Readers, 2016), but I didn’t anticipate it even being in my top five. Yet I found this novel of an “enmagicked” girl, a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, a good witch and a bad one, a Swamp Monster poet, and what it means to be a family as enchanting as the moon.
The premise of a child sacrificed for the safety and well-being of a community is not uncommon in fairytales and folktales, and that is the framework we find ourselves in. The people of the Protectorate, a sad little place, sacrifice a baby every year to “the witch” so that she will leave the town alone. The “offering” is a centuries old rouse intended to keep the elders in power; there is no witch. Well, there is, but Xan is very much a good witch and nothing like the lies propagated by the elders. Unknown to the townsfolks and the elders, she takes the yearly sacrifices to other towns where they are loved by families who can’t have children.
But then comes the beautiful black-haired baby. Xan doesn’t pay attention when letting her feed on starlight, and the girl drinks the moon. She becomes “enmagicked” and Xan, more than anyone, knows the difficulties of a magical child. She decides to raise girl. She names the baby Luna and takes her home. There, they, along with a Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon named Fyrian, are a family.
As Xan believed the babies were abandoned, she had no way of knowing that locked in a Tower, a mother’s madness grew. She also had no way of knowing that a young man who had been present when Luna was taken from her mother has decided to kill the witch and save his people. Meanwhile, history is burning to repeat itself as a dormant volcano begins to stir.
The Girl Who Drank the Moon is beautifully and fantastically told. It reminds me, as I hope it does you, that we are never too old for fairytales or magic or a Perfectly Tiny Dragon that can fit in our pockets.
Read this book.