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Book Review

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

The people of the Protectorate live in fear of the evil witch who haunts the forest. She will leave them alone, but at a terrible cost: They must bring her a newborn baby every year.

The Sisters of the Star control a tower full of books and knowledge within the Protectorate. They refuse to share their resources because they say ideas are dangerous. Along with the Council of Elders, led by the self-centered Gherland, the Sisters concocted the witch story decades earlier to intimidate and subdue the villagers.

With great pomp and ceremony, Gherland collects a designated baby every year. He leaves it in the woods where he expects it to die. Unbeknownst to anyone in the Protectorate, there is a witch who annually collects the babies. This good witch, Xan, can’t fathom why the people of the Protectorate would abandon their own children. She secretly rescues the babies and takes them to loving homes in nearby villages.

One year, the mother of the selected baby dares to fight the Elders by climbing to the ceiling rafters with the child. They seize the child anyway, and they lock the mother in the tower until she goes mad. Xan rescues the baby girl, who has a birthmark shaped like a crescent moon.

Xan usually feeds babies healthy starlight but accidentally gives this child moonlight instead. The girl becomes “enmagicked,” filled to bursting with magical powers. Once Xan realizes what she’s done, she decides it’s too risky to give this baby away. She keeps the girl as her granddaughter and calls her Luna. Xan lives with a swamp monster named Glerk and a pocket-sized dragon named Fyrian. The four become a close family over the years.

Antain, Gherland’s young nephew, is training to be the new Grand Elder as the story begins. Antain has seen enough to feel uncomfortable about the Protectorate’s governing body. The ceremonial removing of the babies haunts him the most. He never forgets the sight of the woman hanging from the rafters fighting for her baby.

Before long, Antain tells his uncle he doesn’t want the Grand Elder position. He leaves his training to become a carpenter. Antain returns to the tower some time later to visit the madwoman. She has collected bits and pieces of magic and taught herself to do strange things with paper. Her folded paper birds attack Antain, leaving sharp, disfiguring cuts on his body.

When Luna starts to discover her magical abilities, Xan puts a protective spell on her. She squelches the powers and makes Luna forget even the word magic. Xan knows that, in spite of the spell, Luna’s powers will become clear to her as she nears age 13. Xan also realizes her own powers will diminish. She will die as Luna grows more powerful.

One year, the weakening Xan goes to collect the Protectorate baby. She changes herself into a bird so she can watch for Gherland’s arrival. Luna, who still knows nothing of the Protectorate or her origins, goes after Xan out of concern for the old woman’s health.

Back in the Protectorate, successful carpenter Antain is married to the woman he has always loved. They’ve just become parents, but the child is slated to be given to the witch. Antain vows to go to the haunted forest and kill the witch before she can steal his or any other children.

Gherland fears his elaborate hoax will be discovered. He talks with Sister Ignatia, known as the Sorrow Eater because she thrives on the sorrows of others. Sister Ignatia says she’ll follow Antain into the woods and kill him. Sensing magical messages about her stolen child’s whereabouts, the madwoman breaks out of the tower and heads into the woods herself.

As Antain enters the forest to hunt the witch, he hears a noise. He shoots and hits a bird, injuring its wing. Antain picks up the bird, Xan, and nestles her in his coat. The madwoman comes upon the home where Xan and Luna lived. She finds Sister Ignatia’s magical boots, which allow her to travel swiftly over great distances. Sister Ignatia chases the madwoman through the woods in an effort to retrieve the boots.

Antain sees Luna and believes she is the baby-stealing witch in disguise. He’s about to kill her when the madwoman and her magical paper birds burst onto the scene. Luna realizes Antain’s injured bird is her grandmother and the madwoman is her mother. Xan, Antain and the madwoman each share their experiences concerning the abandoned babies.

Xan is crushed to learn she’s been keeping children from their real families all these years. Sister Ignatia arrives and tries to make everyone unhappy so she can eat their sorrow. The rest remind each other they must choose hope and love instead of sorrow. Glerk and the now-gigantic dragon, Fyrian, arrive. They all decide not to harm Sister Ignatia since she is locked in a prison of her own sorrow.

A volcano that will destroy the Protectorate and surrounding villages is about to erupt. Xan urges Luna to use her magic and put a bubble around the towns to shelter them. In the aftermath, the villages are covered in ash but are safe thanks to Luna. The Elders are imprisoned.

Antain and his wife visit Gherland and forgive him, even though the Elder shows no remorse. Xan and Sister Ignatia, both weak and dying, are moved to the hospital wing of the tower. Other children who had been taken from their parents return to the Protectorate to meet their birth families. The madwoman cannot remember her name. Luna searches the town history to discover her mother’s real name is Adara.

As Xan’s life comes to a close, Glerk, Fyrian and Luna stay near her. She dies, and Luna returns to her new family, including her mother, Antain, his wife and his child. Glerk awakens Xan, and they walk hand in hand to the Bog.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

This fairy tale includes witches, magic, spells, flying dragons and a talking swamp creature. The people believe all good comes from the Bog, that the Bog created everything and the Bog loves them. There were once no words or animals or mountains. The lonely Bog created a body for himself and became the Beast.

The Beast loved the Bog and the Bog loved the Beast. The Beast couldn’t express the tenderness he felt, so he created words. Then he created the sky and all of the other things people see. The phrase “Bog be praised” appears.

Glerk frequently mentions the Bog and contends that the Bog is the heartbeat and womb of the world. He is the Bog, and the Bog is him, he says. When Xan dies, Glerk takes her hand and leads her to the Bog.

Authority Roles

The Sisters of the Shadow live in a tower that includes a working dungeon and torture chamber. They have expansive libraries and are skilled in many areas of arts, crafts and combat. They don’t allow others to benefit from their knowledge.

Sister Ignatia thrives on eating the sorrows of others. The self-centered Grand Elder lies to the people to control them. Antain’s mother is concerned with her son’s power and status more than his happiness. Xan lovingly cares for Luna. She keeps secrets she feels Luna should not yet know.


The Lord’s name is used in vain a time or two. The word d--ned appears once. The madwoman and Antain lie in pools of blood after her paper birds attack him.



Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Lying/Deception: Antain lies to his mother and Sister Ignatia when it is easier than explaining himself. Luna and Xan lie and keep secrets from one another for years. The Sisters lie to the madwoman, telling her she left her baby in the woods and lost it, or that she never had a baby at all.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

9 to 14


Kelly Barnhill






Record Label



Algonquin Young Readers, a division of Workman Publishing, an imprint of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill


On Video

Year Published



Publisher’s Weekly Best Book, 2016; School Library Journal Best, 2016, Newbery Medal, 2017 and others


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