I seem to be in the vast minority when it comes to this book -- everyone seems to love it, and the Newbury stamp on the cover just adds to its prestige. I, too, was expecting to love it, as I love mythology from all over the world and found the idea of an adventurous young girl embarking on a journey with a dragon to better her family fortune captivating. Sadly, while the book contains strong messages and weaves together several traditional stories of Chinese folklore, the writing itself is sadly bland, and the story lags terribly in the middle.
"Where the Mountain Meets the Moon" follows a young girl named Minli, who lives with her family in an extremely poor village in the valley of Fruitless Mountain. Minli and her parents work hard all day just to have enough to eat, but Minli is happy, for she has her father's stories about dragons and the Man in the Moon to comfort her. But all the same, she sees that her family's poverty is making her parents miserable, and so she sets off on a journey to find the Man in the Moon and ask him to change the family's fortunes. With a flightless dragon for company, she travels toward the Endless Mountain on a journey that will have her befriending kings and orphans, talking to fish and rabbits, confronting fearsome tigers and monkeys, and ultimately making a decision that will change her life forever...
My favorite aspect of this book was seeing real Chinese mythology woven into Minli's story, mostly in the form of her father's tales or stories related by people she meets along the way. I don't claim to be an expert on Chinese myth, but I've read some of the stories and was able to recognize several. I'm curious as to which of the stories in this book are actual folktales and which are inventions of the author, and it makes me want to learn more about the folklore and mythology of China. Which, I suppose, means this book has done its job. And the book has a good message at its heart -- that kindness will go a much longer way toward changing one's fortune than power or greed or scheming.
Also, the book is peppered with beautiful color illustrations, all of which are done in traditional Chinese styles. These livened up the book considerably, and made for an enchanting reading experience.
Sadly, the story itself lags, especially toward the middle. Grace Lin's writing can be lovely at times but is oddly inconsistent -- sometimes it was enchanting and other times it was quite clunky and bland. The story itself seems to wander, and lingers at odd points for longer than necessary. And at times it felt that the various folktales woven into the story didn't mesh well, and could have been incorporated into the story better.
It doesn't help that the characters themselves are fairly flat. Minli, despite being the main character, doesn't have much personality beyond being the usual "adorable precocious child" so ubiquitous in literature. Dragon is relegated to a personality-free sidekick, and the villain of the story is simply evil for evil's sake. Only Minli's mother sees any character development, and even then it's simply transforming from a nagging harpy to an agreeable wife... which has its own unfortunate implications. I understand that folktales weren't always renowned for their exemplary character development, but a novel adaptation of said folktales should do better, in my mind...
This certainly wasn't a terrible book, and can serve as a nice introduction to the unique and colorful world of Chinese mythology for young readers. I simply found it lacking in certain areas, and think it could have been improved on. Still, it's a fine read for younger readers, and the illustrations are a beautiful touch.