Moonrise by Sarah Crossan

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Moonrise by Sarah Crossan

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Aaaand... she's done it again! Sarah Crossan's latest free verse novel is about a boy whose brother is on death row. It's beautiful and it made me cry.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: September 2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 140886780X

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Shortlisted for the Costa Children's Book Award 2017

Joe is seventeen and he hasn't seen his brother for ten years. And the reason for that is brutal - Ed is on Death Row in Texas, convicted of the murder of a police officer. Ed says he's innocent. Aunt Karen doesn't believe him. And Mum is long gone, no-one knows where. When the execution date comes through, Joe passes up on his job and a spot on a summer athletics scholarship and treks from New York across the country so that Ed is not alone. He is determined to spend these last weeks with his brother no matter what anybody else thinks.

In a fleapit of a one-room apartment, with no job and little money, Joe is isolated and afraid. How will it be to see his brother again? Can Ed's lawyer get a reprieve? Is Ed really innocent? He makes friends with Sue, a waitress at a local diner, and Nell, a blunt, straight-talking girl with whom he feels an instant connection. But how will they feel when they find out that his brother is a convicted murderer?

Told in blank verse, this is Joe's story.

Crossan always writes with real emotional intensity and I think the blank verse form enables her to turbocharge that. Moonrise is truly absorbing - it catches you and pulls you in and doesn't let go. It's not an easy read, both for the difficult topic and the form. You have to concentrate. But that concentration reaps such a big reward, it really does. I reached the last page almost blinded by tears and am not afraid to say that I blubbed for hours after finishing.

Countless lives are formed and shaped by justice systems, especially justice systems that often involve unjust outcomes. And those lives are often from the most marginalised communities - on class lines as the so-called white trash like the Moon family, or on race lines. And so, we need to examine the death penalty in this context. Because with the death penalty, you can't reverse an unjust outcome. And yet, the American justice system seems intent on maintaining itself as some kind of irresistible vengeance behemoth, uninterested in and ignoring the casualties it leaves in its wake. And, in any case, can it ever be right for the state to take a life?

Moonrise looks at these issues but it also looks at family dynamics - Joe comes from a dysfunctional family and the difficult relationships within it have a ripple effect throughout his life, extending from the practicalities of being with his brother as the execution approaches, through his ability to interact with adults, to the way he approaches a nascent relationship with Nell. Just by going to Texas to be with Ed, Joe has given up a place on a summer athletics programme and all the opportunities that come with it. More injustice. Your heart bleeds for Joe but it swells for him too, as he charts his way through the multiple barriers he faces. And Crossan reminded me, through Sue in the diner, of how much the kindness of strangers matters.

I loved Moonrise, I really did. It's serious and thoughtful and political but it's moving and touching, too. It's also beautiful and asks something from its readers in return for its many gifts.

Highly recommended.

If stories written in free verse appeal to you and you haven't already read it, don't miss One, Crossan's wonderfully moving book about conjoined twins. Younger readers could look at the brilliant Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech.

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