****I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review****
“Moon River” is a sweet, but heart crushing, tale of growing up in the heart of Appalachia during the late 1990’s. As I am about the same age as the characters in Tran’s book, and have recently moved to the South (so a bit closer?), I found myself instantly pulled into the story of Abigail and her elementary through early highschool friends. I found myself reliving aspects of my own childhood through Tran’s novel of first love and how abusive so-called “friends” can be, as these kids navigate growing up and all the complex emotions that come along with it. Be forewarned though, this book, while beautifully written with wonderful characters, does not have a happy ending and I find it necessary to give a trigger warning for those who have dealt with bullying, suicide, and depression as this may become exceptionally difficult to read if you have been affected by either (as I have).
We follow along as Abigail begins to discover who she is through her growing and fluctuating relationships with her friends and the childhood butterflies she feels for the mysterious Ryan. We watch all these children grow up and mature over various summers, school years, and bus rides together. Tran has a marvelous way of drawing the reader in and making the stories and characters feel so relatable that you feel like you are right there next to Abigail as she swelters alongside her friends during a summer drought, during a tense car ride back from McDonald’s, to betrayal when Abigail learns that her best friend is far too self-centered to ever really love her or treat her right. She shows us how the innocence of Abigail’s youth and her love for her friend(s) blinds her to the abusive nature of the friendship and has her clinging to the frayed strings of the friendship in the hopes that one day it’ll change.
Honestly, I don’t know what person HASN’T experienced something like what Abigail goes through, so I found these anecdotes to be very cathartic (even when I didn’t think it still affected me 20 years later!). Tran has such a poetic way of showing us how Abigail feels about her friends, family, and her crush, that I found the book hard to put down on several occasions as I was so immersed with Abigail and her little dramas.
The only thing I would have liked more of, was to see how Abigail grew after the terrible event that rocked her school. It’s such a long build-up to that point that the end felt a little unsatisfying (at least to me) because I wanted Abigail to feel like she healed or grew or maybe just learned something from the experience. She does, Tran assures us of that, but it’s so brief compared to the build-up that I would have just liked a little more. I know most of the instances described in “Moon River” are true experiences, but it is fictional as well, so embellishing at the end a bit more would have been fine (and welcomed) even if that’s not exactly how it happened in Tran’s experience.
I thoroughly enjoyed this charming and nostalgic novel, but it did bring me close to tears at the end, my breath hitching at the story’s conclusion. That’s an awesome feeling but it can be overwhelming if heavy topics like suicide and depression aren’t something you want to deal with. I’d say it was worth it for Tran’s exceptional writing, but I know that’s not possible for everyone. Still, even with my own experiences with this subject matter, I’d give this book a 5 out of 5 stars, hands down!
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