Summary: Living as a guest of war in Canada with her little brother Gavin during World War II, Norah Stoakes is a thirteen year-old girl on the cusp of womanhood. Gairloch, a Muskoka cottage, is their home for the summer, and along with guardians Aunt Florence and Aunt Mary, Gavin and Norah are absorbed into the Drummond clan. But after three years away from her home in England and her family, Norah is now a teenager dealing with a changing body and emotions. This summer marks her departure from childhood, her first experience with romantic love and her realisation that in the face of war, being a grown up means making tough decisions.
Number of Pages: 219
Age Range: 12-14
Review: I have lost track of how many times I have read Kit Pearson’s Looking at the Moon. While it is the middle book in the Guests of War trilogy, it is the book I read first, and though it is connected to the others as it is a mere piece of the story of Norah and Gavin, it has the ability to stand alone.
Through Norah’s thirteenth summer Pearson creates a vivid and honest snapshot of what life as a teenage girl is like. Norah is putting aside childhood activities in favour of grown-up ones, and finds herself falling in love with Andrew, the nineteen year-old favoured young man of the Drummond clan. Despite their six year age gap and no interest in anything other than friendship on Andrew’s part, Norah’s love transforms her. Suddenly the love songs on the radio make sense, and Norah begins to dream about a future with Andrew where she helps him become a dedicated war hero. The tale of Norah falling in love for the first time just as her body is beginning to mature is poignant and wistful, capturing the intricacies and complexity of the developing female heart with precision.
But there is also so much more going on in the story. Norah begins to realise that going home to England after the war may be her dream while is simultaneously Gavin’s nightmare. After three years together with Norah and Gavin the whole Drummond clan is reluctant to think about having to send them back, even though everyone wants the war to end. And the cost of the war is getting higher and higher as gas is rationed and lives are lost.
When it comes to a balanced view about the war, it is Aunt Catherine’s opinion that I pay attention to. With all the pressure to do one’s duty and to ‘beat Hitler’ in society and in the Drummond clan, Aunt Catherine is the voice of reason as she seems to be the only one who examines the losses they’ve all suffered as a result of the fighting. Indeed, her awareness about the senselessness of war even extends to empathy for the Germans. Combined with her intense love of books, Aunt Catherine is easily my favourite character.
Contrasting the practicality of Norah’s physical and emotional development is Andrew’s story. Yes, he is nineteen and therefore should be considered a grown-up, but Looking at the Moon is as much his coming-of-age story as it is Norah’s. Born at the wrong time, Andrew is faced with an impossible choice, go to war as everyone expects even though he knows the killing has the potential to break him, or break away from the family that has provided him with love and safety over the years, pursue his dream of acting and risk getting branded a coward. I can still remember the shock I felt when Andrew made his decision the first time I read Pearson’s book, and today even though I knew what was coming it hit me anew.
By telling Andrew’s story as well, albeit through Norah’s love goggles, Pearson examines the personal conflict Andrew and others like him must tackle simply because of age and societal expectations. It’s not fair, and the cost of war is much, much too high for all involved, but there is also the sense of necessity. The foe must be defeated, the vulnerable defended, and those who have the courage to do so are heroes. But as Pearson shows us, it is infinitely more complex than that, and Andrew is caught up in it.
After all these years, that complexity is one aspect of what keeps me re-reading time and time again. I love the characters, the endearing Drummond relationships, and the setting, historical and geographical. Most of all though, I love how Looking at the Moon is just a piece of a larger story – the impact of World War II on the children who were sent away and ended up maturing in a foreign country without their parents. All three Guests of War books are Canadian classics, but Looking at the Moon will always be my favourite part.
“I whispered, ‘I am too young,’
And then, ‘I am old enough';
Wherefore I threw a penny
To find out if I might love.
O love is the crooked thing,
There is nobody wise enough
To find out all that is in it,
For he would be thinking of love
Till the stars had run away
And the shadows eaten the moon.
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
One cannot begin it too soon.”
– W.B. YEATS – quote from W.B. Yeats from Looking at the Moon by Kit Pearson
“‘Doesn’t it make you feel safe to know you have enough to read? If I didn’t always have a book waiting, I’d panic.'” – Aunt Catherine from Looking at the Moon by Kit Pearson, page 30
“Andrew sighed. ‘My grandparents were easy to take, but I think my mother was glad to get away from the rest of the family when she married again. Yet there’s something endearing about all of them, too. When I’m here I feel so … safe. As if nothing has changed and nothing else in the world – the war especially – exists. I guess that’s why I have to come back once in a while.” – Andrew talking to Norah from Looking at the Moon by Kit Pearson, pages 60-61
“Aunt Catherine’s lined faced looked tired. ‘I lost a father, a brother and a nephew – Hugh – in wars, Norah. It’s a wicked waste.’
‘But we have to beat Hitler!’
‘I don’t know how to answer that, Norah. Yes, we have to beat him. But what a price we’re paying! Not just our side – think of what the German people are enduring. We’re bombing them just as heavily as they’ve been bombing Britain.’ She broke off a piece of wood angrily. ‘It’s all so senseless! Do you know what we called the last war? “The war to end all wars.” Huh!’
Then she sighed. ‘Poor Andrew. He was born at the wrong time. Let’s just hope your little brother will be luckier.'” – Conversation between Aunt Catherine and Norah about the war from Looking at the Moon by Kit Pearson, pages 105-106
“One after another the velvety melodies floated out to her: ‘Blue Moon,’ ‘Moonlight Serenade,’ and the whirling crescendo of ‘In the Mood.’ Again and again someone put on ‘You’ll Never Know.’ That’s our song Norah decided. Most of the songs were about moons and dreams and parting and they all had a wistful edge to them. Being a grown-up seemed to be one endless love scene where someone was in love and the other had left or didn’t return the love.” – Norah from Looking at the Moon by Kit Pearson, page 150
“Aunt Mary pulled her over for a hug. ‘Oh, Norah, you’re so young – very young! This is just the beginning! I’m not going to say you only have a crush. I remember feeling the same way about one of my teachers – love is just as real at any age. But I promise you, you will get over it – and love someone else in time, someone who will love you back.'” – Aunt Mary talking to Norah from Looking at the Moon by Kit Pearson, page 200