Moonrise by Sarah Crossan

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Crossan, Sarah. Moonrise. Bloomsbury, 2018. 383p. ISBN 9781681193663. $17.99. HS OT ****

Sarah Crossan is no stranger to issue-driven teen fiction, and her recent novel-in-verse challenges readers to think about one of the most controversial social issues of our time: the death penalty. In Moonrise, Joe Moon is the younger brother of siblings Ed and Angela, abandoned by their parents and raised in Staten Island by an aunt. As the head of the family, Ed is revered by little brother Joe as he steps up to fill the role of caregiver left vacant by their parents. Until Ed lands on death row in a penitentiary in Wakeling, Texas, a place called “the farm” by locals. Joe must discover whether his big brother is guilty of murder, and if their family will leave him to die alone or embrace him at his darkest hour. Moonrise is the heartfelt story of a fractured family burdened by poverty, secrets, and distrust told in first person free-form verse by an angry yet hopeful boy who learns to forgive as he passes into adulthood. It is also the illuminating story of a small town dependent on the big business of the prison system to create jobs and maintain a fluid economic and social system. And it is an exposé on the failings of the criminal legal system and the ethics of capital punishment.

Crossan is known for taking risks. Her novel-in-verse about conjoined twins, One, forces readers to grapple with uncomfortable issues, and the dystopic series Breathe describes a future world devoid of oxygen. Moonrise is an important work in many ways, but it sidesteps the issue of youth treated as adults by the penal system. 18-year-old Ed is coerced into confession, an important topic handled deftly by Dashka Slater in The 57 Bus but unaddressed by Crossan here. Race relations and racial profiling by the law are also overlooked. It may be by design that the author chose not to address these issue, and it is worth noting that a quick Internet search reveals that most inmates executed in Texas are black, whereas the Moon family is depicted as white. Despite these omissions, Moonrise is an unparalleled, provocative, and nuanced depiction of a topic rarely handled in YA literature. It will have particular appeal to students of social justice issues and will inform and enlighten older teen readers. Pared down to a gritty, staccato rhythm, Crossan’s free verse effectively reveals the tension and tragedy of the story.

Rebecca Jung, Belvedere Tiburon Library

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