The Moonlight School
The Moonlight School is a prettily written if occasionally predictable inspy with a heart of gold. Its feeling for life in the Kentucky hills alone is worth the price of admission.
Lucille – Lucy – Wilson carries an ugly, heavy burden with her. When she was a little girl, it had been her job to watch her younger sister Charlotte while their single father interviewed for a job. But she became so engrossed in her copy of Little Women that she didn’t notice when Charlotte got up and disappeared – or was kidnapped.
Years later, the tear in Lucy’s relationship with her father has not mended nor has Lucy’s guilt over the situation, and she gladly takes a working summer visit with her father’s favorite cousin Cora in order to avoid both him and the emptiness of her life at home. And there’s one other thing Lucy’s avoiding; her lively new stepmother, who’s barely older than Lucy herself. Lucy will try to forge a new life for herself, working in the stenographical pool within the Rowan County school system, where her aunt is superintendent.
Lucy soon finds herself being sent off into the hills of Kentucky to act as a translator – reading aloud personal letters and writing down and mailing off the responses. This involves learning both the culture of the place and the dialect of the people there, and while she soon comes to like and understand them, she learns about the intellectual depravations many who live there are faced with.
Lucy’s translations confirm what thrice-divorced Cora Wilson Stewart – family nickname: The Little General – has long known about the problems facing her birthplace. Cora vows to change the lives and luck of the people around her and teams with Lucy and a handsome itinerant singing schoolmaster named Brother Wyatt to hold an open-air class on moonlit nights, spanning the length of the summer until the days turned chilly with fall frost. If she improves the literacy of the adults in the county, then they will likely have better job opportunities, she figures, and the poverty rates within the county will fall.
Even though putting together the school makes Lucy blossom, she still feels as if God has no plan for her. But there are several surprises waiting for Lucy in Rowan County – a romance with Wyatt, a solution to the mystery of Charlotte, and perhaps, a purpose-driven life sent by God.
The Moonlight School is charming and fascinating in the way it tells the story of these Kentucky folks who want to live better lives for themselves, but have no opportunity to achieve them. There are some flies in its ointment, but on the whole it’s a solid, enjoyable read.
The most fascinating character is definitely Cora, who is drawn from the real-live Cora Wilson Stewart, who eventually became president of the Kentucky Education Association. I’d never heard of her before this, and having a thrice-divorced woman center the novel was a bold choice for an inspirational romance. Cora is wonderful and formidable, and reading about her here made me look up more information about her.
I did like and sympathize with Lucy, and with evenhanded and yet philosophical Wyatt. Their courtship is sweet and restrained, and the other, minor characters in the novel add color to the proceedings. Fisher does a good job of capturing both the cadence of this part of Kentucky and the spirit of how folks lived – and still live – up in the hills.
I did have one problem with the novel – the way Fisher chooses to drag out the mystery over Charlotte’s new identity. It’s pretty obvious who she is by the midpoint, and by the time Lucy was doing things like filling out the date of her sister’s birth in her new family’s Bible or leaving behind her adored childhood doll for her to find, I wanted to shake Lucy and demand she TELL her sister who she had been. I know it would’ve been difficult, but the narrative vacuum annoyed me.
I also wanted desperately to at least witness a class at the Moonlight School, but the book ends just before it begins, leaving readers feeling that they’ve missed out on this great accomplishment.
But that’s not enough to keep me from giving a recommendation to The Moonlight School, which is a good-hearted and sweet-natured read overall.
Cover art note: I have no idea why the woman on the cover looks like she escaped from the mid-1800s. I assure you this is mainly set in 1911, when fashions were generally more form-fitting by then even for Kentucky women.