How High the Moon
Karyn Parsons’ moving coming-of-age novel, How High the Moon, is told through the alternating perspectives of three African-American children growing up in a small town in South Carolina in 1944. There’s 12-year-old Ella, the novel’s protagonist; her best friend Henry, whose father is away in the war; and her 14-year-old cousin Myrna, with whom she lives while her mother is in Boston pursuing a career as a jazz singer. The story hinges on two major events in the lives of its main characters: Ella’s extended visit with her mother in Boston and the arrest of Myrna’s boyfriend, George, for a murder he didn’t commit. Ella’s trip to Boston is filled with uncertainty, exploration, and wide-eyed wonder at the discovery of a new world of possibilities outside her rural childhood home. Seen through the children’s eyes, the wrongful conviction (by an all-White jury) and execution of George presents a stark reminder of the unfairness and brutality of racism in the Jim Crow South. However, the novel’s most memorable and compelling images are often portrayed with understatement and humor: the drawings that Henry and his soldier father trade through the mail, Ella’s excitement at being able to drink freely from a public water fountain in Boston, her confusion upon discovering her mother in bed with her “roommate” Helen, her mischievous delight in sneaking into the “Whites Only” bathroom at the local train station, and her sudden realization of the true identity of her biological father, a mystery that preoccupies her throughout the story. In the audiobook’s final scene, narrator Sisi Aisha Johnson performs a lovely, near-whispered, a cappella rendition of the haunting mid-century ballad from which the novel borrowed its name: Morgan Lewis’ “How High the Moon.”
Running time: 6 hours, 43 minutes
David Shirley ©2019 Parents’ Choice
David Shirley’s recent nonfiction titles include A History of Brooklyn Bridge Park and Fix It Leroy! His YA biographies, Every Day I Sing the Blues: The Story of B. B. King and Satchel Paige: Baseball Legend were honored as the New York Public Library’s Best Books for Teens.