Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton, 389 pp, RL 4
I read Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton almost from cover to cover and I still have a lump in my throat as I write this review. In the character of Mimi Yoshiko Oliver, not only has Hilton has created a twelve-year-old girl with an authentic voice, but, by making her a multicultural (Japanese and African American) girl with dreams of being an astronaut in a small, patriarchal Vermont town in 1969, she has combined social, racial, cultural and historical events in one lightning rod of a person. By writing in free verse, Hilton gives Full Cicada Moon a sense of immediacy, intimacy and emotional intensity that deepens the moving and powerful events Mimi experiences over the course of the novel.
On the first day of 1969, Mimi and her mother, Emiko, arrive in Hillsborough, Vermont. They have travelled by bus from Berkeley, California to be with Mimi's father, Professor James Oliver, who has taken a post at Hillsborough College. Readers experience the dichotomy of Mimi's existence as she fills out school forms where she can only check one box for ethnicity. A fellow passenger on the bus asks Mimi if she is adopted, insisting that the Japanese woman next to her could not be her mother. These microaggressions (I learned this word in an educator's workshop - it refers to the everyday slights, snubs or insults - intentional or unintentional - that send hostile or derogatory messages based solely on membership in a marginalized group) continue throughout the novel in a way that is relentless and realistic. Mimi meets these micro (and macro) aggressions with acceptance, determination and dignity. With her father's guidance, she strives to be respectful, but she also has to decide for herself when to ask for "Equal rights and protection under the law."
Hilton picks Mimi's battles well, and the one small step that Neil Armstrong takes on the moon in July of 1969 midway through the novel is mirrored in Mimi's school life, where she takes one small step forward for girls. With her Farmer's Almanac and Life and Time magazines featuring the astronauts, Mimi has taught herself everything she can about the moon, from its phases to the names of the craters. Preparing for the science fair, Mimi realizes she doesn't have the tools to build the box she needs to display her moon model. When she tries to join shop class, she is immediately dismissed and told that girls take home economics and boys take shop. A second attempt to join the class earns Mimi and her friend Stacey, a transplanted Southern belle, two weeks of suspension. The day she returns from suspension, Mimi witnesses a remarkable show of support from students that leads to an incremental shift in the administration.
While Mimi is making her way through seventh grade, trying to fit in by eating the turkey tetrazzini that tastes like a "ball of paste" instead of the delicious obentō her mother prepared, she is teased and bullied for being both black and Japanese. The students make squint-eyes at her when the teacher is not looking and ask to touch her hair. Her classmates are challenging, but Mimi's home life is rich with two cultures. She eats hinomaru - a pickled plum on a bed of white rice that resembles the Japanese flag - alongside black-eyed peas, collard greens and skillet cornbread. Mimi's mother survived the bombing of Hiroshima and her Aunt's family was sent from Sacramento to an internment camp in Arizona during WWII. Her father tells her about driving across the country to participate in the March on Washington D.C. while he was studying for his PhD. They do not talk about how his family, save his older sister, disowned him when he married Mimi's mother.
Hilton weaves in one more thread to this story in the character of the brusque neighbor and his nephew, Timothy, which account for some of the sweetest scenes in the book. It is through these friendships that Mimi's hatsuyume - the first dream of the new year that you must never tell anyone - comes true and she finds herself just a little bit closer to touching the moon.
Full Cicada Moon, which includes a pronunciation guide and glossary of Japanese words used in the book, is a stunning novel. Mimi's life experiences are powerful and immediate and relatable in a way that the target audience will respond to. I can't WAIT to get this book in my library and see what my students think of it. I already have two in mind who will devour this amazing book!
Readers who loved Full Cicada Moon will definitely enjoy these two multiple award winning books. And readers who loved these two books MUST read Full Cicada Moon!
Source: Review Copy