Monday, September 1, 2003

I'll Watch the Moon: An Inspiring Story from Ann Tatlock

It is 1948, and Minnesota (and the rest of the country) is in the midst of a polio epidemic. The situation becomes personal for 9-year-old Nova Tierney when her 14-year-old brother Dewey contracts the dreaded disease. Both children enjoy astronomy and watching the night sky – so when Dewey despairs, looking always at a hospital ceiling, Nova promises him that she will "watch the moon" for him.

Ann Tatlock’s inspiring novel, I’ll Watch the Moon tells a woman’s reminiscences of her life growing up in the post-World War II Midwest. Nova and her brother and mother live with Aunt Dortha, who runs a boarding house in St. Paul, MN. Beyond the close friendship of brother and sister, though, lies a deeper story about Nova’s mother; boarder and Holocaust survivor Josef Karski; and a child who longs for a father.

As with earlier Tatlock novels (such as All the Way Home), this fourth novel is told in a casual first-person style. Nova views the story as an adult piecing together all the pieces: her own memories, plus what her mother later told her before dying of cancer. We are easily drawn into the story and care about the characters, while learning some about polio epidemics, a scary thing before the vaccine was developed. As one who cannot remember the time, it was interesting to learn that – before people knew what caused polio – it was associated with summer activities, especially water and swimming areas. The characters also think the polio epidemic will end when the frost comes, as though it were caused by mosquitoes and killed off by the cold weather. The historical background also tells of the origin of the March of Dimes and FDR’s involvement, as a polio victim himself.

For a Christian novel, the religious element is weak (perhaps to reach a non-Christian audience?). I’ll Watch the Moon contains plenty of references to God, with some attention to the term Providence and its meaning -- but little mention of Christ or Jesus. An emotional incident relayed from Josef to Nova’s mother suggests that a Jewish (non-Christian) Rabbi found hope and something greater than himself (in his circumstances, the Holocaust) – and that is a major lesson learned. The story never goes beyond that point, toward any discussion of Christian beliefs or faith.

Still, this novel has an enjoyable story, a time-slice look at ordinary people in middle America, in the not-too-distant past. The characters, mainly adults, grow and learn from their experiences. The plot brings about a rather surprising and abrupt twist near the end, to show that real life, as in the story, does not always play out the way we expect it to.

No comments: