Simon and Schuster
By Jessi Kirby
Released May 2011
I read once that water is a symbol for emotions. And for a while now, I've thought maybe my mother drowned in both.
Anna's life is upended when her father accepts a job transfer the summer before her junior year. It's bad enough that she has to leave her friends and her life behind, but her dad is moving them to the beach where her parents first met and fell in love- a place awash in memories that Anna would just as soon leave under the surface.
While life on the beach is pretty great, with ocean views and one adorable lifeguard in particular, there are also family secrets that were buried along the shore years ago. And the ebb and flow of the ocean's tide means that nothing- not the sea glass that she collects on the sand and not the truths behind Anna's mother's death- stays buried forever.
Moonglass is one of those novels. It isn't long and it isn't flashy, there hasn't even been much buzz about it, yet. But its very much like it's cover. It's beautiful in its subtlety. As I started reading I thought, "Oh no another dead mother story," and laughed because I'd read that same line in another novel I read recently and had been deeply touched by. But this is anything but another dead mother story.
If you look at the cover on the book, you can see the moon glowing above the clouds, illuminating the water. The same clouds are shrouding the night sky, hiding the stars, yet the beach sparkles with little gems almost like stars, moonglass all around the couple holding hands on the beach. It's very symbolic.
The novel is much like the cover-things are covered up, murky and this has made for a strained relationship between Anna and her father who is a park ranger/head lifeguard. It's not really spelled out, but it's not just a summer job. He uproots her and takes a new job at a new beach miles away from the place she grew up, from the place where her mother walked into the ocean and never walked back out while Anna, seven sat and waited for her. Enter the clouds. Anna never asks about her mother feeling her father's unwillingness to discuss her with Anna. But then why does he take a job on the beach where her parents met if he wants to avoid talking about her? It's confusing for Anna and the surf begins to churn inside her.
Anna herself is good at avoiding things, evading questions about where her mother is, so that her friends think her mother travels a lot. Avoiding how she really is when she feels something growing inside of her. Avoiding what she's running from, the answers, the truth. And avoiding who she really is. When she flirts with a life guard, she lets him talk trash about her father just for the anonymity - not being the boss' daughter, not being off limits, that girl. But Anna is running from something, her mother's death and the misplaced guilt and shame it brings with it. She joins the cross country team and gives the fastest girl on the team a reason to run faster. But this isn't something Anna can outrun. Tension builds, the clouds fill in.
Throughout the book as Anna learns more about her mother, makes friends, falls for the lifeguard, and continues to run, the pace of the book begins to build. It starts slow and gentle like a wave on a calm day at the beach. But as the turmoil-the questions, the emotions, the fears-build inside Anna, a storm brews waiting to explode both inside and out. The tension builds and before long that beach is being pounded with wave after wave. And as Anna seeks an end to her turmoil, the wave just might take her away forever, just like her mother.
But this is not a story about a dead mother and daughter. And Anna's savior is not only the most unlikely of heroes, but he's also the moon- illuminating- bringing understanding when it's least expected. And with the first light of illumination, Anna is able to stop running and ask the questions and get the answers she's been running from since she was seven. What's left behind? When the storm ends the beach is littered with moonglass, the sparkling seaglass of the night and gentle reminders of the past. And a perfect night for walking on the beach.
The novel is told from Anna's point of view. The descriptions are so great I can feel myself going back to summer days at the beach when my friends and I used to lay out on the beach and watch the lifeguards. I think there must be a pre-requisite that all lifeguards have to be cute if not drop dead gorgeous. And then there's that whole laid back beach atmosphere that pervades everything they do. Jessi Kirby teases us with snippets like "It was the kind of perfect golden summer afternoon when you could tell people just didn't want to leave..." p.29 and "The girl absently scooped up handfuls of sand and let it sift through her fingers..." p.29 and it makes me nostalgic for the warm sandy beaches and long hot summer days. The descriptions are like everything else understated and eloquent each word spare, but perfectly placed. Another author might have been more prolific, making it a longer novel, but Jessi Kirby knew the perfect word count and number of pages. Nothing is wasted in Moonglass. I can't believe this is a debut novel, it reads like a seasoned novelist wrote it. It's going on my shelf of favorites, something I'll read again and again along with my other friends. I'm looking forward to her next novel already. And it's a stand alone, more kudos to be heaped on this debut author for daring to be different!!
Heather in Sandwich