Moon Over Manifest Summary

Clare Vanderpool

Moon Over Manifest

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Moon Over Manifest Summary

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American author Clare Vanderpool’s 2010 children’s novel Moon Over Manifest received the Newbery Medal for excellence in children’s literature as well as a Spur Award for western juvenile fiction and recognition as a Kansas Notable Book. The novel tells of a young, high-spirited girl named Abilene Tucker whose father, Gideon, sends her to live with friends of his in Manifest, Kansas in the summer of 1936. The fictional town of Manifest is based on the actual town of Frontenac, Kansas.

Abilene is sad to have been separated from her father and continually hopes that he will come for her before the end of the summer. In an attempt to remain busy, Abilene gets involved with trying to solve a mystery that stems from a collection of letters she comes across, hidden in the room where she is staying in the home of Shady Howard, her father’s friend. As Abilene settles into living in Manifest, she finds that there is more to the mystery than she had imagined at first. Abilene is still trying to navigate her way through childhood while learning about adult responsibility at the same time.

Living in a new place is not a new experience for Abilene, as she and her father have moved frequently. Shady is a childhood friend of Gideon’s whom Abilene had previously never met. She does not understand why her father suddenly needed to send her away, which happened after she almost died as the result of an infection she suffered from a wound on her knee. When the train she is riding to Manifest pulls into the station, she quickly jumps off, following the advice she learned from her father. He told her that a person should encounter a town before it sees her first. She follows a road and reaches a gate that reads “Perdition.” She knows that perdition means a state of damnation where the sinful go after death, from having received meals in churches with her father during periods they spent on the road. As she is thinking about this, Shady Howard appears. He takes her into town and introduces her to Hattie Mae, who works as a writer at the local newspaper. Abilene knows Hattie Mae’s name because her father has for many years carried a copy of the local paper.

The next day is the final day of the school year and Abilene goes to school in order to meet some of the local children. A nun, who is conducting the class, assigns Abilene to write a story that she is to submit at the end of the summer. Abilene forgets about the assignment, since she does not think she will still be in town by the end of summer. Instead, she finds a box in her room that contains letters and other mementos and begins to study them. As she reads the letters, two other girls from the school join her. They are Lettie and Ruthanne, to whom Abilene explains what she has discovered in the letters. The first letter mentions a mysterious spy called the Rattler. The girls compile a list of suspects selected from among the people who have lived in the town both back then and in the present. They decide to spy on the people on their list in order to gather clues.

They follow Mr. Underwood, the town undertaker, to the cemetery, where he measures a grave using his own body. Later they return to the tree house where they had been and find a note telling them to back off. They assume the note was placed there by the Rattler. It is starting to get dark and Lettie and Ruthanne leave for home. Abilene then discovers that she has lost a compass belonging to her father. Her search for it takes her to the house with the “Perdition” sign, where she sees the compass hanging on the porch, out of her reach. When she returns the next day to retrieve it, she pays the owner of the house, Miss Sadie, to tell her fortune. The woman tells her about two of the boys who were mentioned in the letters that Abilene found. She then makes Abilene agree to work around the house in order to pay for a pot she broke when she climbed on it while attempting to reach the compass.

Abilene spends the summer performing tasks for Miss Sadie and continuing her search for the Rattler with Lettie and Ruthanne. She finds out the way the boys in the letters, Jinx and Ned, affected the people of the town and learns that Ned died in World War I. His death had a profound impact on Miss Sadie and Jinx. Miss Sadie, it turns out, was Ned’s mother, and they were separated when coming to the country through Ellis Island. Jinx blamed himself for Ned’s death and has been on the run ever since. Jinx, Abilene learns, is her father, who has come to feel that he causes the deaths of everyone he loves. That is the reason he sent his daughter to live with Shady–he was afraid he would cause her death, too. In the end, Abilene convinces Gideon to join her in their true home, Manifest.