Synopsis from B&N:
Abilene Tucker feels abandoned. Her father has put her on a train, sending her off to live with an old friend for the summer while he works a railroad job. Armed only with a few possessions and her list of universals, Abilene jumps off the train in Manifest, Kansas, aiming to learn about the boy her father once was.
Having heard stories about Manifest, Abilene is disappointed to find that it’s just a dried-up, worn-out old town. But her disappointment quickly turns to excitement when she discovers a hidden cigar box full of mementos, including some old letters that mention a spy known as the Rattler. These mysterious letters send Abilene and her new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, on an honest-to-goodness spy hunt, even though they are warned to “Leave Well Enough Alone.”
Abilene throws all caution aside when she heads down the mysterious Path to Perdition to pay a debt to the reclusive Miss Sadie, a diviner who only tells stories from the past. It seems that Manifest’s history is full of colorful and shadowy characters—and long-held secrets. The more Abilene hears, the more determined she is to learn just what role her father played in that history. And as Manifest’s secrets are laid bare one by one, Abilene begins to weave her own story into the fabric of the town.
Clare Vanderpool was inspired to write Moon Over Manifest because of a book she saw about stolen maps that started with the quote from Moby Dick, "It is not down in any map; true places never are."
This book, for me, created a very true place. It created a very true place for many readers; that is a hometown. A town where everyone has a story, and everyone knows your story-- and knows, perhaps, more than you. There is something intriguing about what came before you. What happened before you came into the world. Stories that our parents, aunts, uncles, neighbors know that we don't. Histories. I thought that Vanderpool weaved this story so well, and revealed it through Miss Sadie's stories so that you discovered the story just as Abilene did.
The main character, Abilene, was such a paradox. She felt like an outsider in this place where her past and her connection to Manifest was deep, though she didn't know it. Readers who have never found their roots in one place can respond to Abilene's feelings of displacement. That feeling of, where do I belong? On the other hand, readers who are from a small town and find themselves irrevocably connected to that life can appreciate the claustrophobic-like connection of the people of Manifest.
"Miss Sadie breathed in again. 'He comes to America on a boat, yes. But to Manifest, he comes by train. A train for orphans. He stays with the Sisters for a time. Sister Redempta cares for him. But he is a little boy, five years old, of undetermined nationality, so he belongs to all the people. Of course, it is Hadley Gillen, the widower hardware store owner, who adopts him as his own. But the town grows to love the boy and imagine that his future can be theirs as well.' "
"It also bothered me that I didn't have a story. 'Telling a story ain't hard,' Lettie had said. 'All you need is a beginning, middle, and end.'
But that was the problem. I was all middle. I'd always been between the last place and the next. How was I supposed to come up with a story for Sister Redempta or even a 'Remember when...' to reminisce on with somebody else? But then, I wouldn't be here when school started anyway, I reminded myself."
In the Classroom:
This book is appropriate for middle grade readers who can stick with a story. It is not action-packed or very suspenseful, but a reader who can follow multiple story lines and can handle a story with a lot of flashbacks will really enjoy this beautiful book.