87 pages • 2 hours read
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First published in 2006, Alabama Moon by Watt Key is a realistic middle grade novel set in 1980 in rural Alabama. After being raised by his survivalist father, 10-year-old Moon Blake knows he can acquire anything he needs from the forest. When his father dies, Moon sets out for Alaska as Pap instructed. On his journey, Moon finds conflict with authorities, peers, “the system,” and a constable intent on breaking his spirit. This guide follows the 2006 edition from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Alabama Moon was a 2007 Bank Street College of Education’s Best Children’s Book of the Year. A movie version was made in 2011.
Alabama Moon is categorized as middle grade or juvenile fiction and includes profanity within the novel’s dialogue. The term “skinhead” (181) is used once in the novel, when a character shaves Moon’s head to rid him of bugs and ticks, then jokes about his appearance.
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Moon Blake is 10 years old in 1980. His father Oliver, a skilled survivalist, just died, and Moon faces a new life alone in the rough shelter he calls home. Pap raised Moon to survive in the woods using his own skills and resourcefulness and to never trust the government, rules, society, or authority. Moon’s mother died when he was two, and Moon is unused to seeing or speaking with anyone besides Pap. Infrequently, he and Pap hiked out six miles to sell produce to Mr. Abroscotto at his general store. Before he broke his leg and died of infection, Pap grew increasingly paranoid and upset that a lawyer recently built a large hunting lodge near to their shelter. Pap left Moon with instructions to seek the same unindebted lifestyle in Alaska, where he can homestead without hassle.
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After Moon buries his father, he seeks Mr. Abroscotto’s advice on getting to Alaska. Mr. Abroscotto, however, calls the authorities. Moon rushes back to the shelter to hide out, but his loneliness that night drives him to spy on the lawyer through the hunting lodge window. The lawyer, Mr. Wellington, finds Moon asleep outside the next morning. Mr. Wellington welcomes Moon in and feeds him, telling him that a constable is looking for him. Mr. Wellington offers to find maps of Alaska for Moon, but it is a trick; soon Mr. Gene, headmaster of a local boys’ home, arrives. On the way to the home, Moon gets carsick. When Mr. Gene stops the car, Moon hits him before fleeing back to his shelter.
Moon leaves for Alaska the next morning. He packs his wheelbarrow with supplies and his rifle and hauls his possessions over swampy and rough terrain. As soon as he attempts to cross a bridge on a main road, Constable Sanders accosts him. Moon tries to flee, then beats and kick Sanders to get away, but he is unsuccessful. Sanders takes Moon to a county jail where Moon enjoys a hot shower for the first time and plenty of food. Sanders takes Moon to Pinson, a home for boys. There, Moon meets Kit Slip, a 10-year-old boy who is fascinated with Moon’s stories of living in the woods, and Hal, a 13-year-old kid who tries to show his physical prowess against Moon. Moon fights Hal handily twice before enlisting in both Hal’s and Kit’s help in escaping Pinson. Moon invites the other boys to board their escape bus, but Kit and Hal are the only ones who disappear with him on foot into the Talladega National Forest. Sanders sends two bloodhounds after them, but the dogs befriend the boys, especially Hal.
Moon tries diligently to teach Kit and Hal survival skills so that they can continue to Alaska, but after a cold thunderstorm without shelter, Hal decides to leave to find his father, who lost custody of him years before. The dogs go with him. Kit and Moon work hard to establish a camp and shelter. They eat well, keep warm, make weapons, and tan a deer hide for clothing. Sanders eventually stumbles near, but Moon snares him in vines and sends him down the creek—not before collecting his army pistol, which Moon practice-shoots twice. Moon still believes that Pap taught him well: Everything one needs can be collected from the forest. After several weeks, Kit becomes very ill. Moon realizes that natural remedies cannot save his friend, and he drags Kit on a makeshift stretcher some miles to a road where Kit is rescued.
Hal hears a reporter’s story about Kit and finds Moon to offer help. Moon harbors at the trailer where Hal is staying with his father, an alcoholic who sleeps much of the day. Hal and Moon shoot bottles, race Hal’s father’s truck, and try to call Kit at the hospital. Moon questions now why Pap chose the lifestyle he did, and why he kept Moon from people. Moon visits Mr. Abroscotto to ask if he knows why Pap lived alone and raised him in isolation. Mr. Abroscotto suggests Pap’s experiences in the Vietnam War may have contributed to his feelings about the government and his desire to leave society. Moon visits Kit in person at the hospital, and they plan to live in the forest as soon as Kit is well. Sanders catches Moon leaving Kit’s room and demands his pistol back. Moon lies and says it is in his old shelter. Moon feels despair and loses hope of attaining both companionship with others and the sense of freedom he is used to. When Sanders restrains Moon with a dog collar and leash, Moon does not resist and leads Sanders to the shelter. Sanders is furious when Moon admits the pistol is not there. Mr. Wellington arrives and Moon escapes while the two argue. Moon uses the stars to navigate back to Mr. Wellington’s lodge where he gives himself up.
Before Mr. Wellington turns Moon in, he decides to help him—sincerely, this time. He records Moon’s entire story, and they go to the forest camp to retrieve Sanders’s pistol. Then Mr. Wellington delivers Moon to the Tuscaloosa County jail—not Sumter County’s jail, where Sanders’s father is judge. After an impatient wait in jail, Moon appears before Judge Mackin at a hearing with Mr. Wellington as his representation. Sanders accuses Moon of attempting to shoot him and killing and eating his bloodhounds. Mr. Wellington proves with Moon’s own knowledge and marksmanship that Sanders is lying. Hal arrives with the two bloodhounds, alive and well, and Judge Mackin jails Sanders and releases Moon to Wellington. Mr. Wellington finds Moon’s Uncle Mike, who agrees to take custody of Moon.
While Moon waits for his uncle to arrive, he tries to visit Kit again. Kit grows very ill and passes away before Moon is allowed to see him. Moon is devastated, but Hal reminds Moon that Kit’s best days were spent in the forest camp, learning the ways of the woods with Moon. Moon goes alone to bid farewell to the old shelter and his parents’ graves before meeting Uncle Mike and going to a new home and family in Mobile.
By Watt Key