57 pages 1 hour read

Clare Vanderpool

Moon Over Manifest

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2010

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Summary and Study Guide


Moon Over Manifest is a 2010 novel by author Claire Vanderpool. It relates the story of 12-year-old Abilene Tucker, a drifting girl in search of her father, a home, and a sense of belonging. When the novel starts, her father, Gideon Tucker, has just sent Abilene to the Kansas town of Manifest, claiming that he can’t take her to Iowa, where he is allegedly taking a railroad job. It is 1936, and the Great Depression is still in full force. Vanderpool uses Abilene’s story to investigate themes of Universals and Preconceived Notions; Family, Lineage, and Community; and The Power of Storytelling. Moon Over Manifest won the Newbery Medal for excellence in children’s literature.

This guide refers to the Kindle edition.

Plot Summary

Once Abilene arrives in Manifest, she quickly makes two friends: Ruthanne and Lettie. She stays with Shady, a pastor of the Baptist church, who is also a friend of her father. Abilene begins school on the last day of the school year. The teacher, a nun named Sister Redempta, gives Abilene a summer assignment: She must submit a story on a topic of her choosing on September 1. Abilene doesn’t think she’ll be in Manifest by then since her father will return to get her before school starts again.

In her room at Shady’s place, Abilene finds a box of mementos: letters and various objects, like a skeleton key, a cork, a small nesting doll, and more. One of the letters references a Manifest spy known as the Rattler, and Abilene and the two girls spend the summer trying to learn the Rattler’s identity. One day, they follow Mr. Underhill, the undertaker, into the woods, where he is measuring a cemetery plot. When they return to Shady’s home, they find a note on his treehouse—their meeting place—telling them to leave well enough alone.

Abilene meets several townspeople in quick succession. One of the people she meets is Hattie Mae Harper, a newspaper writer. Abilene knows who she is because her father gave Abilene a compass in a box wrapped in a sheet of newspaper containing a column by Hattie Mae. She also meets Miss Sadie, a Hungarian woman whose gate says “PERDITION.” Miss Sadie is a diviner. Abilene ends up working for her in exchange for accidentally breaking one of her pots while searching for her lost compass, a gift from her father. She tends Miss Sadie’s garden, searches for herbs and insects, and listens to her tell stories about the history of two boys in 1917 and 1918: Jinx and Ned Gillen. Jinx and Ned’s story shaped the past and future of Manifest, although Abilene will not understand their significance for most of the story.

The story details how the town has a standoff with the mine owner, Arthur Devlin. Using Jinx’s idea, they fake an epidemic of the Spanish Influenza (a misnomer for the 1918 outbreak of influenza), getting Devlin and his enforcers out of town for a month. While they’re gone, they make bootleg liquor—a “miracle elixir”—to raise money to buy the land freed up by the death of Widow Cane. If they can get the land, they will use it as a bargaining chip for improved working conditions. The land contains a valuable vein of ore, and Devlin needs it.

After winning the land against Devlin, the people have a homecoming celebration. During the party, Jinx’s uncle Finn catches up with him and threatens to kill him. Finn is a conman who enlisted Jinx’s help in many of his schemes. Law enforcement has been looking for a pair like them ever since the murder of Junior Haskeel, which took place in Joplin. Ned’s story advances in letters that he wrote to Jinx in 1918, after joining the war and going overseas.

Abilene has an idea to hold a Remember When contest, which offers a $5 prize for the person who submits the best memory of Manifest in story form. This will allow them to study the handwriting of the entries. One of them will match the handwriting on the note left on the treehouse. They hope that will reveal the Rattler’s identity.

Finally, Miss Sadie completes the story, revealing that Jinx was actually Gideon Tucker, Abilene’s father. Abilene cleans the infected wound in Miss Sadie’s leg, showing that it is time to heal. Abilene’s father sent her away after her leg became infected when it hit a tree when she was dangling her leg out of a train. He wanted to protect her from the misfortunes that follow him. Miss Sadie also reveals how she came to America as an immigrant. She was denied entry, but they took her son, Benedek. She returned years later and found him. He changed his name to Ned and was adopted by Hadley Gillen. Miss Sadie stayed in Manifest to be near him but was never able to tell him her real identity.

At the novel’s conclusion, Abilene lures her father back to Manifest by sending him a telegram with the help of the telegraph operator, Ivan DeVore. The telegraph falsely claims that she is dying of lumbago. Through her Remember When contest and her presence reminding the town’s residents of the past, Abilene heals the town, which no longer hides from its memories.

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By Clare Vanderpool