The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill


GoodreadsThe Girl Who Drank the Moon
Series: None
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2016

Official Summary

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. 

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule–but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her–even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.

Star Divider


I have mixed feelings about The Girl Who Drank the Moon. On the one hand, I adored many of the characters, especially the friendly swamp monster Glerk and the tiny dragon Fyrian. On the other hand, I found the story a bit overly pretty and sentimental, and thought some parts redundant. In the end, I think I enjoyed the book as much as I did primarily because I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Christina Moore, who makes the story sound absolutely magical. Left to my own devices, I fear I would have found the book a bit too sweet, with its knowing tone and parts narrated directly by an unknown mother-figure to the reader.

First things first–much of the writing in The Girl Who Drank the Moon is really beautiful, and many of the characters are vividly and lovingly drawn. I wanted to live in a place where such kind people (and monsters!) exist and work to help each other no matter what. The adorable tiny dragon Fyrian, who imagines himself a giant, was a particular favorite of mine. I also grew to love Glerk, a swamp monster who is both wise and kind, and willing to do anything for the people he cares about. The relationships made me tear up a little.

The writing of the book is a bit confusing, though. I do think, without Christina Moore’s masterful narration, I would have found the tone sickly sweet, and the repetition more infuriatingly redundant than “mystical.” But the sentimental tone and the “story narrated by a mother to her child” trick both suggest the book is written for quite young children, while the content is more mature. For instance, readers get quite a few chapters from the perspective of a mother who lost her baby and is now experiencing depression as she is imprisoned by some apparently wicked sisters. While I like books that defy convention, having an adult perspective like this is quite unusual for a middle grade book, which is typically aimed at 8-12 year-olds. As an adult, I found a mother’s depression over the loss of her child quite powerful. But I wonder what the average tween would make of it.

I do see why this is the type of book that collected awards. It combines a magical world with some pointed reflections on the power of love and the nature of family, and shows an adult perspective–something I think awards committees (full of adults) are sometimes drawn to, regardless of how the intended child audience might respond. I liked this book, as an adult. But when I think of tween readers I know who might like a slow-paced, repetitive fantasy with a lot of adult perspectives, I find myself a bit stumped. I think the book is good, but the marketing label might be wrong. Having a child protagonist does not automatically make a book a children’s book!

3 Stars

9 thoughts on “The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

  1. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    Gosh yes I agree- having a child protagonist does not make it a children’s book! I also feel like a sometimes awards are given to books that adults think children should like rather than what they actually enjoy reading.


    • Krysta says:

      Yes, so much this! It does seem like adults see a book with a “good message” and give it awards. But stuff that is super popular with kids like Dog Man don’t tend to get awards.


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