Natalie Lloyd’s Over the Moon (2019) will have readers immediately rooting for Mallie, the middle-grade fantasy novel’s twelve-year-old protagonist. Mallie lives with her parents and younger brother in Coal Top, a bleak town where joy is scarce. Coal Top’s inhabitants have no hope for a better future. Serving inhabitants of the wealthy valley below is the only option for girls and boys must work in coal mines where they eventually lose their sight, like Mallie’s father. Mallie has already begun serving a family in the valley but she is fiercely protective of her young brother and will do whatever she can so he can avoid toiling in the coal mines.
When the family is told they must pay an exorbitant fee to the government, Mallie will do anything to keep her family our of debt and her brother out of the coal mines. Her love for her brother and sense of duty to her family prompts Mallie to disguise herself as a boy to take part in a dangerous adventure that comes with the kind of monetary award her family requires to get out of debt and live comfortably. This adventure involves winged-horses, malicious officials, magic, and young love. It’s pretty awesome!
Mallie is a likeable character and the plot moves swiftly to its exciting conclusion. There are some diversity components embedded in the story. Mallie’s father is blind and has lost his voice in the coal mines. In the economic system of Coal Top this leaves him unable to work and provide for his family. Additionally, Mallie has a limb difference and must navigate work with one arm and a prosthetic. Lloyd weaves this into the narrative quite well. At times Mallie’s limb difference is a challenge, but never an insurmountable one.
The basic prompt for the text’s action, Mallie’s protectiveness for a younger sibling, is reminiscent of The Hunger Games, as is the class struggle that emerges in the novel. Some might take issue with the world-building, which does end up prompting more questions than it answers. However, I can effortlessly suspend my disbelief and I think most readers between eight- and twelve-years-old will go along for the ride as well!
I found this a delightfully whimsical real and devoured it quite quickly! I’m a sucker for a strong girl lead and Lloyd gives us an admiral one in Mallie. I’m looking forward to checking out her other work and am glad I discovered this book while serving as a Round One Judge for the Cybils Awards!