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Literature / The Girl Who Drank the Moon

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Her name is Luna.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon is a fantasy book by Kelly Barnhill written for a middle-school audience. It won the Newbery Award for 2017.

Every year the Protectorate surrenders the youngest child to the Witch in the woods. Every year the Witch, confused by their bizarre custom, collects that child and delivers it to a new family across the forest. The arrangement has worked for five hundred years until one day when the annual sacrifice child shows magical potential and is adopted by the Witch to raise as her own.

In addition to the Witch the story follows the moon-child, a madwoman, a tiny enormous dragon, a carpenter, Star Children, a Sorrow Eater, and a swamp monster who composes poetry.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon provides examples of:

  • Amazon Brigade: The all-female Sisters of the Star are the law enforcement of the Protectorate, the only people trained in combat.
  • Arc Words: "Sorrow is dangerous" is repeated several times before the characters figure out why.
  • Bedlam House: The Tower imprisons people who exhibit mental illnesses (read: defy the Council) until they can be healed. The book does not mention any form of treatment or anyone being released. This is part of the Sorrow Eater's cultivation of emotion that it uses to recharge its magic.
  • Bizarrchitecture: The interior of the Tower has passages that join at strange angles and ascend or descend counter to expectation; it's so confusing that without a guide any person could be lost for days.
  • Boarding School: The only education available in the Protectorate is the Tower where the Sisters of the Star learn combat and the sciences. Sisters are expected to leave their families and remain in the Tower for the rest of their lives.
  • Chekhov's Volcano: Underlying the entire forest is a massive shield volcano that almost erupted five hundred years ago but was stopped by Fyrian's mother and Zosimos. The volcano justifies the danger of passing through the forest since it's unpredictably expelling gasses and flares from side vents - the only safe passage is the Road of exposed solid rock. In the climax the volcano does explode but Luna and Xan are able to protect the cities.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Antain and Ethyne knew each other as children, but he became an elder-in-training and she was recruited to the Sisters of the Star. After they both quit they reconnect, marry, and have a child.
  • Claimed by the Supernatural: Xan is so enchanted by one Protectorate baby that she "accidentally" feeds the baby magic moonlight instead of only starlight. Given that the child now has magic powers, Xan is "forced" to adopt her in order to train her.
  • Color-Coded Wizardry: Xan's magic is mossy green; Luna's is blue and silver.
  • Coming of Age Story: Luna grows up quickly over the book with story scenes at her birth, at age five, and the climax at age twelve-pushing-thirteen. These are interspersed with Antain's and the madwoman's stories.
  • Death by Newbery Medal: The book is a Newbery award winner coming-of-age story that sees Luna cross into adulthood with her childhood protectors, all of whom are dead or gone by the time the book finishes.
  • Defector from Decadence: Antain is Grand Elder Gherland's nephew and tapped for training as a new Elder on the council. After seeing the trauma inflicted by separating Luna from her birth mother and the lack of justification, he quits the Council to become a tradecrafter.
  • Distinguishing Mark: Both Luna and her mother have a crescent moon birthmark on their foreheads.
  • The Ditz: A positive portrayal in Fyrian who is overwhelmingly enthusiastic and loving even as he's easily distracted and unable to connect his own observations.
  • Emotion Eater: Sorrow Eaters draw magic from the suffering of others around them.
  • Emotion Suppression: Two faces.
    • The madwoman learns that her captors benefit from her sorrow, and so learns to hide her sorrow behind hope.
    • The villain was emotionally shattered when her village was destroyed. She learned to drawn on other's emotions to shield her from her own, and continued do so long enough that she has forgotten how to feel at all.
  • Facial Horror: Antain's face is a mass of scars after his encounter with the paper birds, which is only part of why he is shunned in town.
  • Girl in the Tower: The madwoman is imprisoned a high cell in the Tower with a barred window. There is mention of other prisoners but no further detail.
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: The apparent fate of the madwoman, who before her imprisonment was only "mad" in the sense that she violently defied the Day of Sacrifice when it came for her child. Among other things, her imprisonment allows her to manifest magical abilities out of sheer boredom.
  • Happily Adopted:
    • Xan carries all of the Star Children to new families in the Free Cities, where they are loved and grow up healthy.
    • Luna calls Xan her grandmother is is quite happy living with her and Fyrian and Glerk.
    • Among the wizards Zosimos raised Xan, protecting her from those who would have abused her powers.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Xan's tutor Zosimos and Fyrian's mother stopped the volcano from erupting five hundred years ago by flying into it, saving the Protectorate and the Free Cities.
  • History Repeats: Xan was taken from her family at an early age, adopted by a magic-user who saw her potential, and came of age just as her adoptive parent died. The same is true for Luna.
  • Housewife: Antain's wife Ethyne keeps a beautiful home full of crafts, collects herbs, cares for injured animals, and maintains friendships with almost everyone in the Protectorate.
  • I Own This Town: The families of the Council claim ownership of the Road, the only safe passage into or out of the Protectorate, and charge high tariffs. This means they are relatively wealthy while everyone else forages in the Bog for subsistence.
  • Meaningful Name: Luna bears a crescent moon birthmark on her brow and manifests magic powers after eating liquid moonlight.
  • Multi-Armed and Dangerous: Glerk has six limbs and a prehensile tail, which makes for an intimidating profile in combat. Not that he's been in combat lately.
  • Mundane Utility: The madwoman is able to magically generate unlimited paper during her solitary confinement, which she uses for art therapy. Her jailers collect it daily, recycle the paper, and resell it.
  • Name Amnesia: The madwoman is referred to only by this descriptor until the final chapters, when someone else is finally able to remember her name for her.
  • Nearly Normal Animal: Luna adopts a crow whose speech she understands, though it's still only making birdcalls.
  • No Infantile Amnesia: Luna remembers her mother and the Day of Sacrifice even though she must have been less than a year old at that point.
  • Offing the Offspring: Every year on the Day of Sacrifice the youngest child in the Protectorate is left in the woods for the Witch. This is the Choice of Abraham version - the parents don't feel good about it (that's the point actually) but are told by the Council that they must appease the Witch.
  • Only Sane Man: Antain. First because as an elder-in-training he witnesses the horror of separating babies from their parents with no evidence of the Witch's power. Second because once he is forced to fend for himself, he chooses not to take up the same Bog-foraging survivalism as everyone else in the village and becomes a carpenter instead.
  • Paper Master: The madwoman's origami birds are a formidable weapon.
  • Peaceful in Death: The Witch Xan, who has long surpassed a human lifetime and is satisfied with her legacy.
  • The Power of Creation: The madwoman learns how to transmute objects from one form to another by perceiving them down to the atomic level. She brushes off any attempt at explanation by reminding the audience that she has gone mad.
  • Public Domain Artifact: Luna steals a pair of Seven League Boots that are used in the volcanic climax.
  • Raised by Grandparents: Xan cannot bring herself to let someone else adopt Luna, so she keeps the baby with her and treats her as her granddaughter.
  • Reality Warper: Luna has absorbed so much magic that by age five it's constantly manifesting spells around her at the merest suggestion including transmogrifying people. Given that she can't control it and doesn't understand the consequences she's a danger to herself and everyone around her.
  • Sealed Inside a Person-Shaped Can: An an early age Luna's magic begins spraying unpredictable effects constantly. Xan manages to seal them so Luna does not endanger those around her. The price is that Luna's magic will break free by the time she turns thirteen and when it happens Xan will die.
  • Shoulder-Sized Dragon: Fyrian insists that he's a Simply Enormous dragon but has failed to grow beyond shoulder-size for the last few centuries. No one wants to break it to him.
  • Solitary Sorceress: Xan lives in the forest but makes occasional trips to the Free Cities to provide medical aid in addition to her annual delivery of the Protectorate's baby. By the end Luna is doing the same, visiting the cities but living in the woods.
  • The Swarm: The madwoman's animate origami birds are individually small and weak, but powerful as a flock.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Implied in Ethyne's meeting with Gherland, where he drinks her tea and suddenly perceives her as fearsome and threatening.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Husband Antain's face is a mass of scars. Wife Ethyne is gorgeous. They courted and married after his injury.
  • Villainous BSoD: The Sorrow Eater suffers one when their emotional core is finally cracked, allowing them to feel human emotions again.
  • Warrior Poet: Glerk the swamp monster, who waxes poetical on the daily and remembers his glory days of wielding five swords in his several hands and prehensile tail.
  • Weapon for Intimidation: Glerk's combat strategy is to wield five swords simultaneously to menace his opponents into submission. His actual combat skills are unproven.
  • White Sheep: Antain is born into one of the controlling families of the Protectorate, but he rebels as a teenager against their paternalistic explanations. Though shunned he becomes a successful carpenter whose work is demanded throughout the Free Cities.