Minli is a little girl living with her parents in a small hut near Fruitless Mountain. She wonder why Fruitless Mountain is so barren and desolate, and enjoys the wonderful stories that her father tells her in explanation. She notices, however, that her mother is annoyed by these stories and generally displeased with their lot in life. Minli buys a goldfish from a traveling vendor which further angers her mother because not only has she spent half the money that she has to buy the fish, but now they will also have to feed the fish as well.
Minli discovers that the goldfish talks and she asks the fish how she can change her family’s fortune and the fish, who has swum in all the rivers on the earth except one, will tell her if Minli agree to set her free. Having the answer she was looking for, Minli frees the fish and embarks on the journey to find The Old Man In the Moon so that she can ask him to give her family a new fortune. Along the way she meets wonderful new friends- a dragon who can’t fly, a king who loves to go among his people, a set of charming and inventive twins- as she learns lessons about family, friendship and starts to discern what she really values in life.
This is a book for middle readers. I got a copy of it thinking that I would pass it along to my cousin and then read it myself. She loved this book and put aside a bunch of other things that she was reading so that she could read it in every spare moment; it was hard to pry it away from her even though I knew I could finish it faster. She wasn’t having it at all- I had to wait! I loved this book right away to and was immediately taken with the story-within-a-story aspect. Each was more interesting than the next and it was wonderful to be reading old Chinese folk/fairy tales and to be able to take the time to ponder the themed meanings and how they related back to the larger story of Minli and her family. The fact that the novel has a number of shorter narratives breaks up the story and makes it easier for younger readers to get used to reading longer works of fiction and keeps them (and me!) engaged throughout.
I was touched by Minli’s journey to make life better for herself and her family and I loved the relationships that she had with the friends that she met along the way. Minli’s parents, Ma and Ba, also have a part of the story as they set out to find Minli so that they can safely bring her home. When they can’t, they spend many evenings at home resigning themselves to the fact that they must wait for her to return on her own. I really liked the fact that the book addressed the perspective of the parents grieving for their missing child and didn’t gloss over the fact that Minli was gone or the toll that it took on her parents.
Where The Mountain Meets the Moon is a great story about a girl and her relationship with her parents, but also weaves in wonderful tales from ancient China. Minli meets wonderful people, has great adventures and there were great descriptions of wonderful Chinese dishes (you know I was all over that!). I was longing for fresh fruit, dragon well tea and all the rest of the courses of the sumptuous meals. The age guidelines say that it’s for 9-12 but the story is so rich that anyone can get into this one.
Did you ever read Chinese fairy tales growing up? I found them to be wonderfully different and thought provoking. I definitely had to spend time thinking about the meaning as it wasn’t always obvious to me. I would love to check out some more.