Dianne Bates, To the Moon and Back, Big Sky Publishing, 1 April 2017, 288pp., $14.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9781925520293
To the Moon and Back tells the story of 8-year-old Claire in the months after her mother leaves and starts a new life with another man — Mack. Claire struggles to adjust to life without her dad, as well as dealing with a new home, a different school and sharing her mum with a stranger.
This story, told with a lot of heart, deals with many serious issues — marriage separation, new partners, moving homes, and it also touches on domestic violence and criminal behaviour. Bates has really tried to covey the tumultuous feelings a child placed in this situation would experience and the behaviour they might exhibit, so for a child living through a marriage separation, Claire’s feelings and actions are no doubt something they will relate to. The emotions and behaviour around the introduction of a new partner were also really well done, so Claire’s guilt and the push-pull between Mack and her Mum felt authentic. Set partly in Sydney and partly out in the Aussie bush, I really enjoyed the Australian feel of this book.
On the downside, the dialogue was, at times, a bit stilted, Claire’s age was hard to latch on to, and occasionally the ‘lessons’ being imparted felt a bit preachy. But my biggest question around this book is whether the pacing, which is often slow, may result in some kids abandoning it. It’s a tough call, and I can’t tell whether making what happens to Claire so ‘ordinary’ will hurt the book because it may not capture kids attention or if it’s brilliant because it closely replicates what the child actually goes through. There are no bombs, intrigues or quests, but Claire’s life changes so quickly and she has little-to-no say about what happens to her, which is something that nearly every kid experiences at some point. Even though the protagonist is eight, and kids usually read about protagonists that are older, I would consider carefully before I gave this book to kids under eight due to the issues with which it deals.
To the Moon and Back is a contemporary middle grade novel, probably best suited to kids aged 8 – 11. It’s written with a lot of heart, captures an Australian feel and deals with some serious issues in an ordinary way.
Reviewed by Renee Mihulka