by: Sarah Dessen
Just because I bought it for my best friend doesn’t mean she gets to read it first. (Really, it’s her fault for living so far away from me.) (Thank goodness she doesn’t read this blog!)
Keeping the Moon is the story of Colie, daughter of Kiki, a fitness personality and exercise guru who lost over 200 pounds and now makes a career out of weight loss products. Colie herself lost 45 1/2 pounds and is dedicated to keeping them off in a healthy manner. The summer of Colie’s 15th year, her mother takes off to tour Europe and Colie stays in a small town in North Carolina with her aunt Mira.
As with most of Dessen’s books, this is the story of Colie finding herself. Keeping the Moon focuses mostly on Colie’s self-exploration; relationships are secondary and feature less than in This Lullaby. Colie is a rather introverted narrator – it’s in the first person – and her voice isn’t nearly as animated as I would like. I don’t know if that’s quite a fault in the book; let’s call it a personal preference on my part. She’s one of those characters that I feel would have come off significantly different if this story was told in the 3rd person instead of the 1st – more badass, I think, and less of a doormat. To be fair, Colie isn’t exactly a doormat. It’s just that, before her mother lost all that weight and got famous, when things got tough they would just pack up and leave.
Speaking of her mother, I really liked how Dessen portrayed their relationship, even if it’s not a big feature of the story. Kiki’s got mom-blinders on; that is, she thinks she knows her daughter pretty well but doesn’t. Not that Kiki’s a bad mom, mind you; it’s just that Colie is growing up and her mother doesn’t realize how much she’s changed. Plus, Colie allows her mom certain comforts, like not letting on how much Colie remembers of the bad years, which further separates the daughter Kiki thinks she knows from the person that Colie is. I think that’s fairly true for most teenagers – one changes so rapidly that one’s parents entirely overestimate how well they know you; growing pains are mistakenly seen as childish outbursts. This isn’t bad parenting on Kiki’s part; Dessen makes it clear that she loves her daughter fiercely and is involved in her life. Rather, it’s necessary for Colie to learn to function independently from her mom.
The other thing that Dessen did really well with this book was portray the relationship between what you look like on the outside and who you are on the inside. She quietly explores the notion of changing oneself, both as a response to an inner desire and to outer pressure. Being true to oneself, while sacrificing the comforts of conformity, is measured against changing to gain others’ approval which is contrasted with changing for oneself. Her mother’s new looks become a message, a tool, and an important representation of her personality; before the weight loss she had nothing and after, everything. Colie, on the other hand, first was teased for being fat; after the weight loss she was called a slut and bullied. Her mom gains confidence from the change in appearance; Colie doesn’t. Mira is confident though she looks like what Kiki fought so hard to get away from. Colie struggles to figure out this complicated relationship between body and personality, with, of course, a little help from her friends. It’s never preachy or shoved into one’s face, but Dessen does manage to subtly make the point that confidence isn’t directly related to looks but neither is it completely detached. The supporting characters also help strengthen this point.
It was quite similar to This Lullaby and I don’t think I’ll be reading another Dessen book for a while – there are only so many journeys of self-discovery that I can go on willingly. But this is a well-written book that explores some issues very relevant to American society; if you like Dessen’s books or books about teenagers growing up in general, or if you want a novel that obliquely examines body issues, than give Keeping the Moon a try. On the other hand, if you want a fast-paced book or one with sharp cultural critiques, not quiet musings, than this may not be the book for you.