I’ve heard wonderful things about Sharon Creech so I picked up her Newbery Award winning book Walk Two Moons. I’ll definitely try some other books of hers because people had such glowing things to say, but I didn’t particularly like this book and I certainly won’t be recommending it to my daughter—she would find it devastating, and not in the thought provoking way that can make you grow.
Sal is traveling with her grandparents, following the path her mother took when she left years ago. While they travel, she tells them the story of her friend Phoebe. Sometimes I find story-within-a-story structure compelling, but in this case I felt like it was often confusing and slowed down the plot. The stories don’t run chronologically, so you have to piece things together as you go. I found it annoying, rather than enjoying the slow reveal.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Wow. Lots and lots of death.
Phoebe’s neighbor’s name is Mrs. Cadaver. Yeah, like a dead body. Her husband is dead, and Phoebe thinks that Mrs. Cadaver killed him. It turns out he was killed by a drunk driver in the accident that also blinded Mrs. Cadaver’s mother.
Sal’s younger sibling was stillborn, strangled by the umbilical cord. Her mother wouldn’t stop bleeding and eventually they did an emergency hysterectomy. Her mother, who was likely already clinically depressed, got even more depressed. She left and, we find out at the very end, was killed in a horrible bus accident.
Sal’s grandmother is bitten by a water moccasin while they’re traveling. She gets sicker and sicker, then finally has a stroke and dies.
All three of Sal’s father’s brothers have died in accidents.
There are a lot of things that concern me, and they aren’t really questioned or addressed.
Sal’s friend Ben touches her even though it makes her uncomfortable. Several times they try to kiss but they keep missing. Eventually they do end up kissing which makes Sal’s grandmother really happy. There are boundary issues here that make me uncomfortable.
In the margins of her notebooks, Sal draws people she knows being hanged.
Sal smokes a peace pipe and apparently takes to it quite naturally.
Sal has been driving cars since she was 11. When her grandmother dies, Sal continues the trip by herself despite being three years underage and not having a license. She gets in an accident, although she’s not harmed. The cop seems to take all of this in stride.
Sal’s mother seems really depressed. She doesn’t feel like she can live up to the standards of her husband’s family. She doesn’t think she’s a good person. She’s never diagnosed, even in passing, and never gets any kind of treatment as far as I can tell.
The English teacher makes the kids keep a journal and then he reads from them out loud to the class. This causes all kinds of drama, which he doesn’t seem to notice until it affects him personally.
Back in their younger days, Grandma ran off with the egg man for a few days because Grandpa swore too much. Apparently they got over this ok because their marriage overall seems strong, but Grandma’s way of dealing with this doesn’t seem like a problem—it’s kind of a funny joke.
Coming to Terms with Your Culture
Sal’s name is Salamanca Tree Hiddle. Her mother also had an Indian name. She feels somewhat tied to…some culture, but she doesn’t seem clear about what it is. There are observations about Mt. Rushmore being built on sacred ground. There’s an ongoing discussion about Indian vs. Native American vs. American Indian vs. Injun—Sal thinks the whole thing is silly and prefers Indian. Sal prays to trees because it’s easier than praying to God. The title of the book comes from the saying that you shouldn’t judge someone until you walk two moons in his moccasins.
Update: I didn’t know enough to be specific about cultural issues that bothered me in this book. Here’s a link to someone who does.
Sal’s dad seems like he’s trying to be supportive of her, but he made her move even though she didn’t want to. He doesn’t explain his connection to Mrs. Cadaver, but Sal also doesn’t want to hear about it and doesn’t give him much of a chance. Her grandparents seem supportive of her, but they seem way too permissive—who lets their underage granddaughter drive unfamiliar roads by herself?
Phoebe’s family is a mess. Her mother is also obviously depressed. When Phoebe’s mother burns brownies, Phoebe screams “I’m fat!” in her face and walks away. Phoebe borders on paranoid with her conspiracy theories. Eventually Phoebe’s mother disappears. Phoebe is convinced that she’s been kidnapped or something. Unlike Sal’s mother, she returns—with a son who was born before she married Phoebe’s father. She couldn’t even talk to her family about this—she had to leave them in order to deal with it.
I didn’t like the book. I suppose there were some good reflections on guilt and coming to terms with tragedies that aren’t your fault and about the nature of life and death, but way too many problematic things came along with that, and those weren’t addressed at all. I couldn’t identify with Sal, I didn’t like Phoebe, I thought Sal’s grandparents weren’t fit guardians, and the story wasn’t compelling enough to keep me going. Like several other award winners, this book leaves me wondering what I missed that other people obviously saw.
Amazon puts the reading level and 8 and up, but I wouldn’t recommend it for kids under 12—even then, it should be read with an adult and discussed, because most issues really aren’t addressed.
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
Published in 1994 by Scholastic
Winner of the 1995 Newbery Award
Read on Kindle