Eloise McGraw's The Moorchild
Book review by Monica Friedman
Newbery Honor-Winning Story of a Changeling Girl’s Quest for Belonging
Her mother was Folk, one of the strange, pleasure-loving fairy people who live in the Mound beneath the moor, and her father was a poor human, seduced into the illusion of her world and cast out again when she tired of him, and Moql is neither one nor the other. She is happy among the Folk, for the Folk are always happy, until the day it’s revealed that she lacks the power to disappear or camouflage herself sufficiently to hide from humans. On that day, she is switched with a human child, left in the cradle at the blacksmith’s house with her memory erased, unable to do anything but howl her discontent.
Fairies fear iron and her new father is a blacksmith. Fairies love sweets, but new human babies are not supposed to taste honey.
Moql, now called Saaski, learns quickly to hide some of her abilities, such as her quickness, and the strange way she can climb up the side of things, more like an animal than a human. She knows she is different, and her neighbors call her a changeling, but her parents love her as best they can, and try to shield her from the cruelty of the world.
Some things Saaski cannot hide: her half-human looks, her ability to play haunting Folk music on the bagpipes, and her need to wander free on the forbidden moor. Her grandmother, Old Bess, seems to know more about her than anyone, and tries to help her feel safe, but her only friend is Tam, an orphan boy who lives out on the moor, tending goats.
The Moorchild is truly a story of alienation. The central conflict of Saaski’s life is that she can never belong anywhere. The Folk will not have her, as she has not enough of their ways, and the humans fear and revile her, because there is too much Folk in her face and her actions. Saaski’s story comes to conflict when the villagers' fear of her differences, coupled with their superstitious nature, and her insistence on being true to herself, leads to potential tragedy. Saaski is determined to learn where she really comes from, and, in doing so, to discover the fate of the child whose place she has taken.
In The Moorchild, we are allowed to linger at the gate between worlds, to see ourselves from the perspective of those we have shunned, and to feel the outsider’s search for inclusion. In Saaski we have a true heroine, able to draw on inner strength denied her time and again by those around her. We see the place of love and fear in the development of a child’s character and cheer along with every hard-won victory in Saaski’s story. Saaski is never content with less than she deserves, never fooled by illusions.
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