Summary: The death of Lily’s Aunt Su, her closest friend, worsens her insomnia to the point where she is not sleeping at all anymore. Internet research shows Lily that she can’t live without sleep forever, but without her nightly conversations with her aunt, she doesn’t know how to get to sleep. A three am walk in search of company and connection leads her to the village’s 24 hour drive thru where she meets Ben, a fellow teen pulling all-nighters by choice. Their subsequent friendship fills the loneliness of the long nights, and ends up changing both of their lives.
Number of Pages: 194
Age Range: 13-15
Review: I loved Deborah Kerbel’s character driven story about how Lily handles the death of her favourite person in the world, her Aunt Su. Even though Aunt Su is dead for a large portion of the novel, Kerbel really develops her as a loveable and complex character through the use of memories and letters.
There are several aspects of Under the Moon that I enjoyed. The first was the exploration of smalltown life. I know this is supposition on my part but I grew up in a smalltown along Highway 8 and Big Bend sounds a lot like a place called Grand Bend to me. With Ben being from Toronto, the big city, I appreciated the comparison between the two places, and I loved the ‘you know your town has arrived when you get a brand name restaurant’ part. In my town, it was a Tim Hortons.
Lily is a strong, engrossing character who swears in French. I have to admit I only understood about half of what she said because they don’t teach you the swear words in the French class you take at school, but I could sense the tone behind her words. Her journey through grief into a life where she opens up a little bit more to new friends and new experiences was well-developed and touching. Through Lily, Kerbel creates a narrative voice that will hook readers with her spirit and attitude.
Throughout the book Lily insists that she has not slept for a number of days and the number keeps growing, but no one seems to believe her. I liked that Kerbel had me believing that Lily did stay up for as long as she did without dying, but I was especially intrigued because Ben introduces a tiny bit of doubt when he asks how Lily knows she isn’t micro sleeping. Since not sleeping didn’t cause Lily to die after 18 days, I wondered if Ben was right, but I preferred to keep believing there was something about Lily enabling her to survive without sleep.
And lastly, with the romance aspect and the happier ending, it reminded me of the books I loved when I was a young teen myself. There was hope at the end of the story, and I appreciated that in a powerful book dealing with loss, death and the fear of dying.
“I can admit it: I’m not always the easiest kid in the world to like. But Aunt Su was different. She loved me and liked me and knew me and heard me and got me. If you’re every lucky enough to have someone like that in your life, never let them go. Trust me on this one. Chances are you won’t ever find a person like that again.” – Lily from Under the Moon by Deborah Kerbel, page 13
“If you’ve ever been awake at this time, you would know that it’s the ugliest, loneliest time on the clock. It always comes just after the moment when you feel like your brain is going to crack open from boredom. This is the times when all the most heinous parts of your life get replayed through your head in high def. The time when each and every moment of self-doubt is magnified through a super power optical zoom lens. The time when loneliness starts to tip towards insanity and you begin to believe what you want most in the world is to fall asleep and never wake up again. This time of night is the absolute bottomless black hole of the clock.” – Lily from Under the Moon by Deborah Kerbel, page 25
“Man, this guy has some serious charm issues! Suddenly on the defensive, I sit up as tall as I can on that stupid little stool and summon up my most disdained expression – which isn’t as it sounds. Trust me, if you haven’t been cursed with shortness, then you have no idea how hard it is to look badass when you’re five foot nothing.” – Lily from Under the Moon by Deborah Kerbel, page 41
“You’ve probably noticed by now that I love swearing in French. A few years ago, my second cousin from Rouyn-Noranda came to stay with Aunt Su for a summer. Robert taught me all the really choice French curses, which turned out to be really useful. If you know someone who speaks French, I highly recommend it. Learning those words was the only nice thing about having to share Aunt Su’s company with Robert for an entire six weeks. French curses give such a satisfying air of mystery to the simplest and dirtiest of English words … kind of like turning puke into pearls. N’est-ce pas?” – Lily from Under the Moon by Deborah Kerbel, page 63
“Yeah, I must be the only person in history to make friends with the moon. Sounds crazy, right? Well, I don’t care. Think what you want. The fact it, the moon is actually an angsty teenager in disguise. S’truth. Just think about it: it’s forever hanging back by itself in the sky – as aloof as a floating iceberg. And it’s constantly changing and passing in and out of phases. But it always finds a way back to its true self in the end.” – Lily from Under the Moon by Deborah Kerbel, pages 125-126