Sarah Crossan,  Moonrise,  Bloomsbury Australia,  1 Sept 2017,  400pp.,  $16.99 (pbk),  ISBN: 9781408878439

Moonrise is without a doubt heartbreaking, emotional and an ambitious undertaking – telling a tale in verse. The problem, for me at least, is that as much as a verse novel brings something different to a story like this, there is far too much lacking in this format for me to definitely say I enjoyed this story.

For me, writing a book in verse affords an author a chance to be stark, brutal even, in a way writing a book in full prose doesn’t. That is something I truly appreciate, for Crossan made me think entirely differently about situations in the book, sometimes in the span of a handful of lines.

Moonrise is about a young man, Joe, who has gone to visit his brother, Ed who is on death row and due to be executed soon. There is no fluff when Crossan takes readers into the brothers’ past, into their terrible home life and the reasons why Ed left and how he came to be accused of murder. It is brutal when Joe thinks fondly of the good memories he has of his brother and then asks him if he really did murder a cop. Crossan handles these parts of the book admirably, cutting right to the heart of a tragic tale of a family broken apart.

Joe is struggling to make sense of this situation and Crossan conveys a sense of this Texas teenager on autopilot. And rightly so – it’s an enormous task for anyone, never mind a teenager, to wait for his brother to die, while recalling the memories that are filled with him, his family and the good times they shared. In the background, there’s the result of an impending appeal looming over Ed, giving him hope that something might save him.

As much as verse brings to a story, I feel like there’s (too) much unsaid and unexplored. If Crossan was trying to make a statement about the death penalty, and I don’t know if she is, I feel like that has been lost in the ‘chapters’ that are just less than half a page long. Crossan’s writing is beautiful, but I think the verse has robbed the story of the power it could have had as a book. There are plenty of moments I wished had more detail and felt it would have made a stronger story, but unfortunately Crossan doesn’t go there.  Instead, she goes to an unwelcome YA trope – namely a romance that goes on and on, to my mind at least, taking Joe away from the stronger aspect of his family and his conflicted feelings about Ed. There are flashbacks that flesh out their family life, but I’d have rather more on that than a romance that seems to go nowhere in the end.  I would think that if a reader is picking up a book where a brother goes to visit his brother on death row, and wait for him to die or have a reprieve, a romance isn’t needed. It was a terrible distraction from the main story, and while Crossan tried to link it to Ed, in the end it just didn’t work for me. Was the romance supposed to have been his solace from thinking about Ed? Perhaps, friendship could have worked just as well. I think YA readers are beyond the need to have a romance in books all the time.

I admire the power of simple words in verse like this, but I think for some stories, verse is just not enough.

A Teacher Resource Pack is available on the Bloomsbury Australia website.

Reviewed by Verushka Byrow

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