Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill

Veiled in the comfort of a child’s tale, Kelly Barnhill spins a story of gender and life, power and knowledge, memory and perception, and most importantly, family, both given and found.


Discussion with spoilers.

Gender and Life

The Girl Who Drank the Moon is an empowering story that centers around four women and one man. It delves into concepts of gendered roles of parenthood and caretaker that take them in ways that I did not expect.

One of the core narratives is the relationship between the town craftsman and the woman he falls in love with. Their love is dynamic and their relationship is one of true love, meaning here that they care for and take care of each other. Instead of a story of a princess in a tower, we are given the tale of a husband and wife who work together with a desire to protect and serve the other. This selflessness made me think and consider how I want my personal relationships to be. Do I go out on my own to care for that person, just as that person does the same for me? This one of the many examples of Barnhill questing after what gender roles mean for people and how they fulfill and overcome them.

Power and Knowledge

The knowledge within the Protectorate, the main geographical town in the story, is hidden and stowed away in a tower. In keeping this knowledge in a tower, Barnhill provides us with a strong lesson for how knowledge can be kept from people in order to grant power over them. Many of her positions on power made me (re)consider Foucauldian ideas of power and knowledge.

Memory and Perception

Memory is lost in this story, and then it is restored. Barnhill plays with how we perceive each other by casting a spell over her main character, Luna, who forgets all about magic. In juxtaposed scenes, we move between Luna and her grandmother, Xan, with Luna unable to see the magic and Xan able to see it. This disjointed perception of each action and scene allows us to muse on how perception affects memory and memory changes perception.

Family, Given and Found

The core narrative is that of a town who gives up their children in order to appease the evil witch in the woods. When the witch in the woods finds these children, she takes them to another land and gives them up for adoption. One child, though, she takes as her own grandchild, Luna, our protagonist. What I find so complex in this story is that family is both given and found. Family is found in the relationship Luna has with the family she believes to be her true family—a witch, a bog god, and a dragon—but family is given in the devotion her mother who is forced to give her up holds for her for thirteen years. We see that family is not simply a mother, a father, and children; family is complex and nuanced.

Spinning and Veiling

The final thing I want to note is Barnhill’s beautiful prose. I reacted emotionally not only to the actions of the characters but also to the words that brought them to life. Christina Moore’s voice was part of that with her wonderful narration; however, the physical words, the choices made by Barnhill, gave the entire story a lilt and airiness that invited you to nestle your mind into the world of words and never come out. The words were the mother’s breast a child lays its head on, the warm cave a bear hibernates in, and the fuzzy blanket that surrounds one on a crisp winter morning.

By Kelly Barnhill  
388 pp. / 9 hrs. 31 mins. Algonquin.
IndieBound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble

This book was listened to in its audiobook format, narrated by Christina Moore.