MMGM and #IMWAYR (8/3/2020): Over the Moon by Natalie Lloyd
For MMGM and #IMWAYR, I am reviewing Over the Moon by Natalie Lloyd.
Over the Moon is Lloyd's third MG novel, following A Snicker of Magic and The Key to Extraordinary. Those two novels have a wonderful and unique formula, which combines a strong yet caring protagonist, a small, close-knit town, and plenty of magic. Over the Moon has all of those things, but it puts a new spin on them that makes for a very different novel.
Over the Moon follows twelve-year-old Mallie Ramble, who lives in the mountaintop village of Coal Top. In Coal Top, boys and men (no matter how young) spend their lives digging in the mines, and girls and women (including Mallie) work as servants in the nearby valley. The mountains and valleys are filled with Dust (with a capital D), which covers up the sky and stars, fills the air, and has the ability to bring dread and fear to anyone who inhales or touches it. It's a stark contrast to how the region was years earlier, when people pulled starlight out of the sky and wove it into clothes, blankets, and other objects that brought joy and peace to those who held or wore them. Mallie's job as servant to the Tumbrel family provides barely enough money to keep her family afloat, so she jumps at the chance to earn money from one of the town's Guardians, Mortimer Good, by riding atop flying horses to collect gold powder from the mountain range. But Mallie soon discovers an ominous secret about Coal Top that forces her to rethink everything she thought she knew.
What makes Over the Moon different from Lloyd's two previous MG novels is that, where those two novels had a joyous premise with some challenges mixed in, Over the Moon is built on a sorrowful, almost-dystopian foundation that I have mixed feelings about. On one hand, Lloyd has always had a knack for setting up a detailed world in her books, and she brings that talent to Over the Moon as well. Child labor, servitude, and literally-poisonous work underground all bring to mind a not-so-distant past in the real world, but the addition of the Dust acts both as an interesting metaphor for people's loss of hope and as an intriguing challenge to be overcome. On the other hand, I loved Lloyd's first two books precisely because they had such an infectious joy that ran through every word, every sentence, and every page. There are some happy parts in Over the Moon, such as Mallie riding her flying horse, Leo, through the sky, or Mallie's caring best friend Adam, but I found almost all of the good parts of this story to be lacking the extreme attention to detail that is present in Lloyd's other books. Characters like Adam, Granny Mab, and Ms. Marcia didn't get the character development that side characters in previous books got. (One particularly bothersome thing was that Adam and Mallie had drifted apart for some reason before the events of the book, but after their friendship was rekindled, it was never explained why they had drifted apart in the first place.) Sometimes, I think that the best books are the books that cram a ton of wonderful little details into a small space, and Over the Moon simply doesn't cram enough in.
There are a number of things that I did like about this book. Mallie is an incredibly brave and mature character. In order to protect her beloved younger brother Denver from a life in the mines, Mallie pushes herself to work harder and harder to earn a living, even daring to ride atop a flying horse through clouds of Dust and terrifying weather. Mallie reminds me of a parent, doing as much as possible to keep the people she loves safe. Also, Lloyd has always depicted physically different characters in her novels (possibly inspired by Lloyd using a wheelchair and walker as a child, as is mentioned on her website), and she continues that trend in Over the Moon. Mallie has only one hand, a detail that strikes the right balance between influencing Mallie's life and fading into the background behind her other traits. In addition, Mallie's father is blind and mute, and another character in the story, Iggy, is quite short. I appreciate all of this representation in the story! I also liked the general importance of animals to the story; Mallie has a strong connection to her horse, Leo, as does Iggy, the aforementioned side character who serves as the horses' caretaker. Mallie's family also has a wonderful yellow bird named Honeysuckle, one of many Dustflights who essentially act as magical and literal canaries in the coal mine for the miners (although, instead of dying from danger, they can simply sense danger and alert their owners). One other random tidbit: my hardcover copy of this book has an excellent book design, with inspirational words printed on the endsheets and lovely pages to introduce each chapter, not to mention that each chapter has a title so you can actually find the parts of the book you loved once you finished the book! (Seriously, why doesn't every book have chapter titles?)
This is normally the part of the review where I summarize how I feel about the book, but I honestly don't know how I feel about Over the Moon. I don't think Over the Moon is a bad book, but it doesn't live up to my expectations of a Natalie Lloyd novel either. You have to understand, just from her first two books, Lloyd is probably one of my top-five favorite MG authors (in fact, I will be re-reading and re-reviewing her book The Key to Extraordinary in two weeks, since my last review of it so utterly didn't do it any justice whatsoever). I love Lloyd's books so, so much, and I really wanted to love Over the Moon as well. However, there are so many excellent books in the world that I just can't tell you to spend time on Over the Moon unless you really want to; you'd be much better off reading The Key to Extraordinary or A Snicker of Magic instead!
Update (1/2/2021): My rating is: Pretty good!