“This is how starlight feels,” says twelve-year-old Mallie Ramble: “Cool like wind, soft as a feather, special as a spoken wish.” In Over the Moon, the latest fable for children by Chattanooga novelist Natalie Lloyd, Mallie and her family live in Coal Top, a mountainous land blanketed by Dust, a mysterious substance that has completely blotted out the stars. The Dust is a serious problem for Mallie’s people, whose livelihood once depended on gathering strands of starlight and weaving them into a cloth with the power to give sweet dreams of hope and peace to those it covers.
Since the Dust came and darkness fell, all anyone feels is fear and sadness. The men and boys of the mountain are now forced to work in the Windy Valley’s gold mines by the Guardians, oppressive leaders sworn to protect citizens from terrifying monsters rumored to live in the surrounding woods. But conditions inside the mines are equally terrible. Mallie’s own father has lost not only his sight but also his ability to speak, and now Mallie must work as a maid for a very unpleasant valley family to support her parents and younger brother.
Despite having been born with one arm that ends just below her elbow, the undaunted Mallie works hard and dreams of making the world a better place: “When the present situation is abysmal, you go someplace else in your heart,” she tells herself. “In my heart I’m Mallie over the Moon. … I bust up the Dust. I smash it. I bring back the light.”
When Mallie sees a job advertisement meant for boys who are “still brave enough to dream,” an ad that promises adventure and “riches untold,” she decides to hide her identity and apply. The Guardians will be coming soon for her little brother, and she will do anything in her power to keep him out of the mines. It won’t be easy, but Mallie is confident: “I’m still learning many things about myself, but I already know this much: I’m wild and brave on the inside,” she thinks. “Some days I can’t help but spark a little. Some days, my heart is a raging fire.”
She will need every bit of that confidence. Mallie and the other children soon discover that the Guardians have enlisted them to catch and ride magical flying horses in order to retrieve gold dust from nearby mountaintops. It’s extremely dangerous work, and Mallie will need help from friends old and new, but she is not discouraged: “I want to be the hero.”
In this delightful allegorical tale, Lloyd highlights themes of family love, friendship, loyalty, courage, and persistence in the face of adversity. By the time her story ends, Mallie understands, “Sometimes it’s better to sing instead of scream. But maybe sometimes it’s okay to roar.”
A graduate of Auburn University, Tina Chambers has worked as a technical editor at an engineering firm and as an editorial assistant at Peachtree Publishers, where she worked on books by Erskine Caldwell, Will Campbell, and Ferrol Sams, to name a few. She lives in Chattanooga.