[Editors' note: Today we're very excited to launch a new weekly feature: Young Adult Fiction Tuesday. Check back each week for a different writer viewing a YA classic through a feminist lens, and get in touch with us if you'd like to write a piece too. Tuesdays just got slightly more bearable.]
Katrina Brown is a graduate student who proudly reads more YA lit than any other kind of fiction.
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech was one of those books my sister and I both read over and over and over when we were younger. I don’t have memories of what the book meant to me specifically at the time or why I was so deeply drawn to it. All I can say is that my copy of the book is pretty beat up, and the book itself fills me with warm fuzzies when I think of it.
The book is a story narrated by Salamanca Tree Hiddle, a 13 year-old girl from Bybanks, Kentucky who moves with her father to Euclid, Ohio about a year before she begins her narration. In short, Walk Two Moons is Sal’s retrospective look at the past years of her life that she undertakes for the purpose of making sense of the life-shaking loss of her mother. Much of her emotional process happens through a story she tells of her friend Phoebe Winterbottom while she is on a cross-country road trip to Idaho with her grandparents to visit the grave of her mother for the first time. The emotional depth of Sal’s narration is striking in both its simplicity and its accessibility. Sal’s honest grappling with feelings of denial, anger, frustration, loss, grief, betrayal, and the real physical ways that her life has changed since her mother left is powerful and moving, while being captivatingly adolescent and remaining intimately relatable. It is no surprise that this book won a number of awards, including the 1995 ALA Newbery Medal.
The theme of mothers and daughters and their relationships was what jumped off the pages to me most as I read the book this time around. The two main mothers in this book – Sal’s mother and Phoebe Winterbottom’s mother – are both women who struggle deeply with what it means to be a wife and mother. Their characters look to find where their actual selves fit in with the roles they have been given or taken upon themselves in their families. Both of these mothers end up leaving to find themselves and figure themselves out. Both of their daughters are left in the lurch in the meantime, struggling with the pain and betrayal of that absence and are forced to face their own feelings and questions of where they fit in their mother’s experiences and hearts.
Two things are clear in this story: it is damn hard to be a mother and a daughter, but both are also deeply profound.
Creech does a spectacular job in her writing to communicate the emotional experiences of both these generations of women without casting a light of judgment on anyone’s feelings or desires. She shows the complexity of self in relation to others in a world where expectations of what mothers and daughters should be and how family should look is a constant niggling pressure that permeates day to day life. No one ends up feeling good or winning the day, the story seems to say, when who we actually are gets buried in the details of the idea of roles we are often asked to play as women.
Some of this is shown in Sal’s observance of Phoebe’s family, where she is a daily presence during the time when Phoebe’s mother decides to leave the family for a bit:
Before I left Phoebe’s that day, Mrs. Winterbottom handed Prudence her brown skirt with the newly sewn hem, and all the way home I wondered what she meant about living a tiny life. If she didn’t like all that baking and cleaning and jumping up to get nail polish remover and sewing hems, why did she do it? Why didn’t she tell them to do some of these things themselves? Maybe she was afraid there would be nothing left for her to do. There would be no need for her and she would become invisible and no one would notice. (pg 89)
And other bits of this comes through in Sal’s memories of her own mother Chanhassen, and the events and conversations that led up to her leaving the family:
When she said she was going all the way to Lewiston, Idaho, on a bus, my father and I were astonished. I could not imagine why she had chosen Idaho. I thought perhaps she had opened an atlas and pointed a finger at any old spot, but later I learned that she had a cousin in Lewiston, Idaho. “I haven’t seen her for fifteen years,” my mother said, “and that’s good because she’ll tell me what I’m really like.”
“I could tell you that, sugar,” my father said.
“No, I mean before I was a wife and a mother. I mean underneath, where I am Chanhassen.”’ (pg 143)
Along the way, Sal comes to understand her mother as a being separate from herself, and that understanding is where she finds the first bit of peace and resolution within herself regarding her mother’s departure and death:
For the first time it occurred to me that maybe my mother’s leaving had nothing whatsoever to do with me. It was separate and apart. We couldn’t own our mothers. (pg 176)
When I step back and think about mothers and women and society and roles and all of the things that remain so often unspoken about these things outside of feminist circles, this book seems to me all the more profound and powerful. In this book, women of all ages voice and follow their feelings and subsequently make changes in their lives for the purpose of self-discovery, to break out of the prescribed role of “daughter” or “mother” in attempts to reclaim their selves. There are many shades of pain and joy, hurt and healing woven through this book. It is a rocky road that the women in Walk Two Moons travel, but a beautiful one that allows them to love, respect, and appreciate each other that much more at the end of the day. The profundity of this lesson that Creech leaves us in the stories of the mothers and daughters in this book is one that is so very worth learning.