The Premise: Joe hasn’t seen his brother for ten years, and it’s for the most brutal of reasons. Ed is on death row. But now Ed’s execution date has been set, and this might be the last summer they have together.
Thoughts: Sarah Crossan has a proven record of writing things that break my heart a little bit. I can’t walk past the bookshelf where Apple and Rain sits without having a little sniffle and please don’t ever make me talk about One unless you’re prepared to watch me rock gently and weep for several hours. Moonrise fits firmly into this tearjerker category, with the story of Joe’s struggle to process his brother’s fate creating plenty of pathos.
As with One and Crossan’s other verse novel, We Come Apart, the nature of the poetry in Moonrise only amplifies the emotive aspects of the story, particularly when Joe dwells on his ambivalent feelings towards Ed and the catastrophic effects of his arrest on the family as a whole. Just seventeen as his brother faces the lethal injection, Joe has had the kind of fictional life that might seem overly tragedy-filled, but which is dealt with in such a nuanced way here that the reader can only sympathise.
I’m always interested in YA novels that deal with difficult or political issues, and Moonrise does both; through Ed’s situation, Crossan questions the morality and logic of the death penalty as well as detailing some of the legal processes involved, with various appeals and reflections on Ed’s initial arrest and court case. Joe’s family is just getting by financially, and so Crossan adds another layer of topical plotting here, subtly conveying the idea that, the poorer you are, the less likely you are to be able to pursue justice.
In Conclusion: I thought Moonrise was really pretty stunning. It hit me in all the right places emotionally, it’s realistic despite its often dreamy verse, and it’s a story that’s compelling, relevant and not often explored in YA. What impresses me with Crossan’s writing is that she’s able to upset and challenge her reader without her books being depressing or mawkish. Moonrise is no exception, and it’s a book I absolutely recommend.