I have a thing for books about exotic locales, any place in Africa especially, so I felt like this one was a sure bet going into it. Laugh with the Moon by Shana Burg is the story of thirteen year old Clare Silver who spends a summer in Malawi with her father, a doctor, who had spent part of his early career there as a Peace Corp volunteer. This time, though, he goes to run from (or perhaps work through) his grief over the death of his wife, Clare’s mother. Clare is an unwilling participant in her father’s journey; she would much rather stay at home in the United States where she can spend time with her BFF and her crush. But to Malawi she must go, and while there she learns a lot about herself and how to let go.
Most of what Clare learns, of course, she learns from the people she meets in Malawi, especially a girl named Memory who becomes her closest friend. Memory is an orphan who is helping to raise her younger brother. She is also the top student in standard eight at Mzanga Full Primary School and an altogether dependable and mature young person. What Clare needs to learn the most is how to get along without her mother–how exactly is she supposed to go on living when she feels “like a book with the pages torn out at the best part.” Slowly, through the summer, Clare begins to open up–to her new friends, to her father, to new possibilities: maybe she’s not the Clare she thought she was; maybe she’s good at other things besides the things people expect her to be good at. Maybe life will go on.
This book feels right. From the setting to Clare’s voice to the grief she and her father work through, nothing rings hollow or untrue. It feels like Shana Burg did her homework. (Reading this book really, really makes me want to spend some more time with Precious Ramotswe and the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, if nothing else than to slow down and experience the beauty of this region of Africa.) No, Laugh with the Moon isn’t exactly a n entirely happy and light-hearted story–the region is too fraught wtih death, poverty, and sickness for that–but it is hopeful. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from this middle grade novel to whet your appetite:
And even though the air is heavy and the house is tiny, I can hear tons of space between Dad and me. I can hear all the emptiness left by everything that isn’t turned on–computers and cell phones and beepers–all the things that usually chop up our time together and slice it into pieces so small they barely exist. (16)
After the chief leads a prayer in Chichewa, four men wearing white pound on their drums. And suddenly, everyone is dancing, including Memory and her grandmother. I used to think that happy people dance and sad people cry. But now I see that people aren’t like stitches on a hem. They don’t always follow a pattern. They don’t always weave in and out, holding the pieces of their lives together in the way you might expect. Sad people can laugh and dance, and that doesn’t mean they’re suddenly fine. And happy people can cry, and that doesn’t mean they’re not okay.
It depends on the moment.
It depends on who they are in the moment.
It depends on absolutely everything. (218)
I like this one a lot (like I knew I would), and I give it a Highly Recommended. (Delacorte, 2012)
- Author’s website and blog
- Review at Semicolon (Sherry’s review is the one that made me want to read this one)
- Article by Shana Burg on how she came to write the novel
- Review at Slatebreakers
- Review at The Fourth Musketeer