An estranged brother on death row shows a young man the importance of family in YA novel Moonrise [Review]

An estranged brother on death row shows a young man the importance of family in YA novel Moonrise [Review]

Joe reconnects with his brother, who was convicted of killing a policeman ten years ago. What truths will their budding relationship reveal?
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John Millen used to teach English and French in a secondary school in the UK. He believes telling others about a good book is a brilliant thing to do.

Moonrise
By Sarah Crossan
Published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 978 1 4088 6780 8

Joe lives in New York with his addict mother, sister Angela and brother Ed. Despite the problems that face him on a daily basis, Joe has Ed as a father figure, and manages to cope. But when Joe turns seven, things spiral out of control.

Ed disappears, and Joe is devastated when he learns that his big brother has been convicted of killing a policeman in the state of Texas. How did Ed end up there anyway? The family goes into lockdown, and practical Aunt Karen, struggling to do her best for Joe and Angela, moves in, and insists that the two youngsters have no contact with Ed. She believes Ed is guilty of the murder, and it is best to forget him. Life, such as it is, must go on.


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Ten years later, a phone call brings Ed back into Joe’s life. He is now old enough to want to know the circumstances surrounding the case that saw his brother wind up on death row. Joe is offered the chance to visit Ed in prison. Should he take it, or follow Aunt Karen’s advice and stay well away?

Award-winning YA writer Sarah Crossan adopts an unusual but effective approach to telling this dramatic story, and the result, Moonrise, is a mini-materpiece. Crossan is a talented blank verse poet, and uses this form of storytelling to great success.

Prose lovers shouldn’t be put off if they haven’t read a verse novel before. Crossan’s writing is terrific. Her sentences are precise, emotions are captured in carefully chosen words, and the empathy she builds as the story progresses, all combine to make Moonrise tough to put down.


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Joe is strong, determined and principled, a protagonist to be admired, with a moving story. Crossan piles on the tension when Joe moves to Texas to meet Ed, visiting the prison daily finally building the ties that had been missing for all those years.

As the date for Ed’s execution approaches, Joe’s emotions swing from hope to desperation and back again. Crossan’s tight plotting and detailed verse fully immerse the reader in the brothers’ burgeoning relationship. But is this all too late? How is it going to end?

As the final scenes get nearer, readers will realise that Crossan has too much respect for her readers to deliver a predictable ending. Moonrise is a novel about mistakes, family, and seeing light in the darkness. It tackles a challenging topic with honesty and focus.

Literary prizes will surely be waiting on the horizon for this impressive, moving and thought-provoking book.

John Millen can be contacted on johnmillenbooks@gmail.com

Edited by Karly Cox

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
If you think you hate poetry, this amazing book will change your mind

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