Northward to the Moon by Polly Horvath, 256 pp, RL 5
Northward to the Moon, Polly Horvath's sequel to the amazing My 100 Adventures, finds main character Jane Fielding one summer later, one year older and one parent richer. The cover illustration by Matt Mahurin, who also created the cover art for Allison Croggon's YA fantasy quartet, The Books of Pellinor perfectly captures the movement of the book and the unifying metaphor of the book.
When Northward to the Moon begins, thirteen year old Jane and her siblings Maya, Max and Herschel, all of whom have different, unnamed fathers, have spent a year living in Saskatchewan, seemingly a world away from their house on the beach in Massachusetts. Their mother, Pulitzer-prize winning poet, Felicity Fielding, has married Ned and moved her family across the continent and to another country because he has found a job teaching French in an elementary school. It is May and Ned has just been fired from his job because he doesn't know how to speak French and he and Jane are ready for an adventure. An old friend of his, a member of the Carrier tribe of Native Americans, is dying and has asked to see Ned again. Unflappable and seemingly unfazed by any situation life presents her with, Felicity packs the house and the four children into the station wagon for what turns into a long road trip and an even longer journey into Ned's background.
Jane and her siblings have grown up with only their mother and themselves to rely on, making friends, some good, some not so good, with the townspeople. The visit to Mary reveals a whole family and a past of Ned's that they never knew about, one that leads them first to Las Vegas, then to a horse ranch outside of Elko, Nevada and finally back to their beach house again. In My 100 Adventures, it was summertime in a small town and Jane was free to roam as she liked and pursue her adventures. In Northward to the Moon, Jane is trapped, almost, much more at the mercy of the adults in her life and much less able to make her own way. Excited by the thought of an adventure and happy to have Ned in the lead, she makes the best of every situation they find themselves in. But, when she feels that Ned betrays her, she is alone amidst a sea of adults. Because (flawed) adult characters are always a part of Horvath's writing, there is bound to be content in her books that will concern some parents. In My 100 Adventures there is the fact that Jane and her three siblings all have different fathers, however the implications of this are left for the reader to untangle, or not. In Northward to the Moon, Jane develops a serious crush on Ben, a silent but muscular young ranch hand who seems to be pointedly ignoring her. Jane fantasizes about being thrown off a horse and having Ben rescue her and, at one point one of Ned's sisters refers to him as "sex-on-a-stick." That is about as racy as things get, though, and Jane's crush is crushed when, after concocting an elaborate plan to get Ben to teach her to ride, she overhears Ned saying to him, "Why don't you just give poor Jane a break already and take her riding? Anyone can see she's got a huge crush on you." Ben winces, Jane runs. It is when here mother takes her on what is meant to be a healing horse back ride, Jane realizes that Ned, "just wanted adventures to get away from things. I wanted adventures to get to things."
Early on in the book, as they are driving at night down a stretch of tree-lined highway, Jane notices that the "moon dangles tantalizingly at the end of the road as if it hangs just beyond the earth's edge." She imagines that there is a little known highway that leads right to the moon where very "daring and stylish" teenagers from the 1960s circle the landscape, trying to find their way back to earth. Polly Horvath has a poetically visual imagination that permeates her characters and their take on life, and Jane is no exception. She tries to get Maya to join in on this fantasy but Maya has become increasingly irritable and close-minded over the course of their year away from home. The negative effects that the choices of the adults have on the children in their lives are much more evident in Northward to the Moon than they were in My 100 Adventures, and, while Jane suffers a bruised heart, eight year old Maya seems at the greatest risk of being undone by the circumstances. In the first chapter of the book, in some of Horvath's most memorable writing, Jane talks about "place memory," and how her internal landscape is made up of the beach and marshes surrounding their house in Massachusetts. When noting how immediately Hershel, who is six, and Max, who is four, have taken to Saskatchewan, she realizes that, "if they grow up here they will be prairie boys. This will be their place memory of growing up. It will separate us in a fundamental way. As if we belong to different places, they to the prairies and me to the ocean. As if at some stage early in our development, out hearts take root in the landscape that surrounds us and remain rooted there all our lives, even when we're not." Maya's heart, it seems, has not taken root in a place yet. In fact, it seems that Maya's place memory may be rooted in people, not geography, if that is possible. For reasons that no one can fathom, Maya has become attached to Ned's mother, Dorothy, a woman who, after her husband walked out on her, packed up her eight children when they were little and moved them to a forsaken town for reasons they still wonder over. As Ned, Jane and Maya drive Dorothy home one night towards the end of their journey, Maya becomes excited about the moon. As at the start of their adventure, it hangs full and round over the road and looks like you could drive to it. Dorothy says to Maya, "I know exactly what you are talking about! I've seen that too! A moon you can drive to... I had all the kids in the car and we were headed north away from Edmonton and I didn't know where we were going, I just knew we weren't going back there, and I thought, That's where we'll go. I can drive all the way to the moon. We'll just keep going to the moon." Hearing this answer to the long unanswered question is what begins to heal things with Ned for Jane.