Years ago, my nephew’s fifth-grade teacher organized book groups that were led by parent volunteers. My sister enjoyed reading, and loved going over and talking to the kids about books. But after reading The Bridge to Terabithia she called asked me if I’d consider leading that discussion.
“That book is too sad,” she said. “I don’t think kids need to read sad books. I have no idea how to talk to them about it.”
I jumped at the chance. I love The Bridge to Terabithia, and had a wonderful time talking about it with the fifth-graders—or, I should say, listening to them talk to me. It was not news to them that the world was full of sadness, or that life can be really, really hard. They didn’t know it, but talking about Jess and Leslie they were talking about themselves.
I remembered this last weekend when I had the good fortune to be seated next to Chris Woodworth at the Indiana Authors’ Fair. She’s a wonderful writer of middle-grade novels, and the best part of my day was getting to know her better. We talked about books and writing…and life in between hawking our novels. I am lucky to have two avid young readers in my life—my granddaughter Heidi and my goddaughter Julia. How cool would it be for them to have a book signed by its author, I thought. So I decided to buy both of them copies of Georgie’s Moon for Christmas.
Chris opened the first to sign it, then stopped, pen poised, and said, “I should tell you this book is really sad.”
Georgie’s Moon is definitely sad. Seventh-grader Georgie Collins desperately misses her dad, who’s serving in Vietnam. To complicate matters, she and her mom have moved…again, so she is friendless. Plus, there are the noisy, sticky, clinging toddlers her mom baby-sits for to contend with every day.
When the book opens, Georgie is living in a state of rage. She’s mean to the children, rude to her mother, and actually destroys a cherished object owned by the counselor who tries to help her. At one point, she starts a fistfight with a boy who speaks out against the Vietnam War during a discussion in social studies class.
Her only solace is the moon.
“You see that moon up there?” her dad said the night before he left for Vietnam. “When it’s night in Vietnam, it’s daytime here…Do you realize that means I’ll see the moon before you do?…So if you start missin’ me, just look up because every night I’ll send my love to you on the moon.”
Georgie has done this every night since then, and it brings her some comfort. Still, he seems so very far away.
Glendale Middle School is brand new, built to accommodate a merger with North Ridge Middle School, and there’s some tension among the students, who used to be rivals. Right off, the first week it opens, the principal announces that all students will be involved with"Good Deeds for Glendale," a project designed for them to get to know each other. They will spend six weeks performing good deeds in teams of two and then write joint reports about them—the only rule being that they have to team up with somebody they don’t already know.
When Lisa Loutzenhizer invites Georgie to be her partner, Georgie plays a little trick to make sure Lisa is the kind of person she wants to spend time with—which lands them both in the principal’s office. “Don’t push me, Georgie,” he says when she talks back to him. “My hunch is that, for whatever reason, you wanted to get caught. You seem too clever to set yourself up like this. So I’ll play along for now. You’re in the principal’s office and you’ve established yourself as a troublemaker.”
Then he tells the Georgie and Lisa what their project will be: visiting Sophie Albertson at the Sunset Home for the Aged the next six Saturday mornings.
A prickly friendship develops between the girls as a result. I won’t give away how the friendship grows, or why. I’ll just say that it's fueled by the girls’ family troubles, secrets, and their broken hearts.
Chris Woodworth perfectly evokes 1970 in this book, a time that, with its unpopular war, is not so different from the time we’re living in now. There are twists in the book worthy of a good mystery—and what the last one revealed about Georgie made me cry.
Kids who read Georgie's Moon may cry at the end, as I did—which, to me is not a bad thing at all. Feeling the sadness of the world, feeling anything, feeling everything—is what makes us human.
The sooner young people begin to understand and embrace the world they’re living in, the better place the world they’ll make as grownups will be.