Laugh with the Moon by Shana Burg
After her mother dies, Clare’s father takes her to Malawi where he had worked as a young doctor. Clare is determined to never speak to her father again. She has lost not just her mother, but her best friend and the potential for her first boyfriend at school. Now she is stuck in Africa where there is little hot water, mosquito netting over the bed, and monkeys screaming outside. As Clare starts to relax into life in Africa, she begins to make incredible friends at her new school. Memory, a girl from the local village, quickly becomes her closest friend. Memory too has lost her mother, though the girls don’t speak of their losses together. Memory makes sure that Clare has things that she can eat, explains the school day to her, and even warns her of the bully in class. As Clare faces her new school with its new language, visiting chickens, and scurrying insects, her relationship with her father starts to get better. Clare still has big issues to face, including teaching English, putting together a play, and another large loss in her life.
Burg truly brings Malawi to life with its strong culture, the stark differences between America and Africa, and the warmth of the people. Her writing is an invitation to explore Africa. She celebrates both the differences in cultures and the universal aspects of life, filling the book with details that paint a full picture.
Clare is a complex character, grieving from the loss of her mother, at first she seems remote and difficult to relate to. Happily, she soon grows past that, becoming a vivacious personality with opinions and skills. Her art forms a connection between her and other people who may not speak the same language, but it is her open personality that does the rest.
The book would make a good choice for reading aloud in a classroom setting since it explores so many themes and topics. There is plenty to discuss from death and grieving to dealing with living in another part of the world. The glorious cover will get this moving from the shelf into young hands directly too. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Delacorte Press.