Set in the Blue Ridge Mountains during the summer of 1969, Moon Water follows Nettie, a gritty sixteen-year-old who is reeling from sucker punches coming from all directions. Her boyfriend since grade school wants to break up just as they were beginning to figure out the sex thing, her life-long nemesis is jabbing her with perfectly polished nails, and her hell’s fire and brimstone preacher refuses to baptize her. In the middle of this turmoil, an old medicine woman for the Monacan Indians gives her a cryptic message about a coming darkness: a blood moon whose veiled danger threatens Nettie and those she loves. To survive, Nettie and her best friend, Win, have to build a mysterious dreamcatcher–one that requires them to scour the perilous mountains for Nature’s ancient but perfect elements.
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At the same time, she is preparing for baptism in the church. However, Nettie still has a lot of questions about religion that she isn't sure about, and her honesty means she cannot lie to the pastor, resulting in a delay in her baptism. He assigns her to work with another pastor more closely to go over material and believe more fully before she is baptized.
Nettie and her BFF Win are inseparable and do everything together, and this summer is no different. As per usual, they often take the train to Win's grandmother Nibi. Nibi is a Monacan Shaman or Medicine Woman, and she has warnings for the girls with the upcoming blood moon. As part of this, she is teaching them carefully how to make dreamcatchers starting with how to painstakingly gather the materials they need. Many other lessons are tucked into the process.
What I loved: The best parts of the book were those with the dreamcatchers and the lessons that Nibi teaches the girls. I would have loved to be even more fully immersed in the Monacan culture and Nibi's vast knowledge. The plot is fast-paced, a lot of the story told in dialogue, which keeps things interesting and moving quickly. There are also some interesting debates on Christianity and good/evil in the context of Christianity (I would certainly label this as Christian fiction), as Nettie prepares for her baptism. Some of the concepts/lessons, such as good and evil coexisting and not being easy to separate, are universal, however.
What left me wanting more: The book seemed more focused on the Christian spiritual journey than on the Native American, and I was looking for more along the latter. I would also love to read a book from Win's point-of-view, exploring her culture more closely. Here, it was a secondary plot.
This may be a spoiler, so if you want to avoid them- skip this paragraph. A big part of the latter story was sexual assault/harassment. While this is handled with some care (police mentioned), I would have liked to see more about the recovery/resources. Parents are hardly involved and no therapist or other resources are described. The book overall has a quick pace that does not get into the details, but this is a pretty big plot point here, so I would have liked to see more.
I would also add warnings for character death and natural disasters.
Final verdict: Overall, this is a fast-paced coming-of-age story that weaves some Native American traditions into Christian fiction with interesting morality and faith-based discussions. I would recommend for people looking for something unique that will spark interesting discourse on good/evil, sins, and moving forward after traumatic events.