“What would you do?” This is a powerful question. It forces the questioned to put themselves in situations outside their comfort zone. It is a very useful question, however, particularly with young readers. It can inspire and nurture empathy, a wholly valuable commodity. In Margi Preus’ new novel, West of the Moon, readers might find they are asking themselves, “What would I do?” quite often in the course of events, and the answers will not be easy ones. But they are worth the asking.
“I am worth two silver coins and a haunch of goat.” When we join Astri’s story, she is being “hired” out to a loathsome goatherd named Svaalberd by her duplicitous aunt. Astri works for the goatherd day and night under terrible conditions, and under his constant threat that they will marry one day. Chief among Svaalberd’s more despicable actions is his keeping locked up a simple, mute girl who spins beautiful yarn for him. When Astri has a chance to escape, with the goatherd’s “treasure” (which, given that she is certain the goatherd stole the treasure from trolls himself, is not exactly stealing), she grabs the Spinning Girl and they make for Astri’s home, to retrieve her little sister Greta. Astri means to flee to the fjord, where a ship is bound for America, where the sisters can reunite with their father. But death and dark clouds follow the girls, and Astri finds herself making choices she never thought she would.
This is not a book for the faint of heart. It is not a large book, but it is weighty. This is not to say that it is laborious, however. It is a task happily done, because Ms. Preus writes with a clarity and conviction that would leave no reader behind. Astri’s story is difficult, and the choices has to make (and the consequences thereof) are dire. But the fairy tale elements that are woven throughout the tale, in Astri’s storytelling and the structure, remind the reader there is still hope, even when facing Death himself. Extensive back matter reveals the inspiration for this story, and gives more information about the folk and fairy tales utilized by the plot.
Ms. Preus has given us a magical piece of historical fiction, and it is the kind of book that will be treasured by generations.
West of the Moon by Margi Preus
2014, Amulet Books
2014, Amulet Books