Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

mountainmoon By Grace Lin [LibraryThingAmazon]

Minli’s family is very poor, so Minli sets off to ask the Man in the Moon how her family can change their fortune. With her new friend, a dragon who cannot fly, Minli finds herself navigating the world of folklore. But will she know what to ask the Man in the Moon when she finally meets him?

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon basically works by taking various bits of Chinese folklore and stringing them into one coherent narrative. That is, various traditional stories are told throughout the book that all turn out to have connections to one another and to Minli and the people she encounters. I only recognized a couple of the stories, so I’m not sure if, to someone well-versed in Chinese folklore, this might not seem as bizarre and silly as if Cinderella’s glass slippers were actually crafted by Baba Yaga. But to admittedly relatively ignorant me, the twining together of the various stories was pretty neat.

That’s a good thing, because the actual introduction of those stories into the narrative was kind of jarring. It was always announced with a change of fonts, a headline, and a switch in the narrative voice, even when the so-called story was only a character describing what he or she did last night. Often, especially towards the end, the sudden interruption of loudly-proclaimed stories badly disrupted the flow of the main book. It doesn’t help that the prose of the whole book is slightly awkward and particularly weak on transitions.

I’d also like to say here that I am so very sick of the all-too-common trope where the main character’s father is cool and relaxed and fair-minded and imaginative and she has oh-so-much in common with him, and the mother is a nagging shrew. It crops up in fiction all the time, especially when the protagonist is a girl. I don’t know if it’s entirely Electra Complex-ish in nature or simply a watered-down version of the Wicked Stepmother trope, but either way I’m totally over it. This book has it in spades: the father tells the stories that are the heart of the book, while the mother is essentially blamed for creating the dissatisfaction that sent Minli on this quest by whining about wanting more money, and is only redeemed at the end of the book by realizing her own culpability and begging the father for forgiveness. I know it’s a standard trope in fairy tales, but enough already!

Speaking of fairy tales, Minli is a very good fairy tale heroine. That is not the same thing as being a fantasy novel heroine. Fantasy novel heroines have, or at least should have, distinctive personalities and voices. Fairy tale protagonists, on the other hand, are only required to do three things: 1. Decide to wander from home. 2. Show compassion to old people or animals who turn out to be powerful beings in disguise. 3. Be clever enough to trick greedy adversaries. Minli’s got all that covered, but she pretty much lacks in the personality department. However, since this book reads much more like a fairy tale than a modern fantasy novel with a conflict and a climax, she actually serves the story very well, since the main object here is not to showcase Minli, but the dozens of bits of folklore that crowd the pages.

In the end, it’s a wash: a decent fairy tale with somewhat clunky writing and couple of annoying tropes. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is perfectly middle-of-the-road, and gets the perfectly middle-of-the-road grade of three cupcakes.

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