Friday, March 26, 2021

Book Review: The Moonlight School, by Suzanne Woods Fisher

Okay, I could pretend that I chose this book because it's historical fiction (which I love!) or because it's about a woman breaking the glass ceiling (you go, girl!) or because it's set in a time and place I haven't read about before (always fascinating!), 
but no.

This book description contained one line that got me 
hook, line, and sinker:

"Brother Wyatt, a singing school master..."

What??? A book about singing schools??? 


If you know my story, you know that attending a singing school changed my life
In all the books I've read, I've never encountered singing schools at all, so how could I resist?

And to clarify: this isn't a book about singing schools. 

Welcome to Rowan County, Kentucky, spring 1911. The world is moving from the straight-laced Victorian era into a new century. Cities are vibrant, modern centres, but in the rural mountain communities, tradition still maintains a stronghold. This is the world of The Moonlight School.

Our heroine, the fictional Lucy Wilson, desperately needs to experience a new chapter in life. She leaves the comforts of her affluent city life to work for her cousin in the school system of Rowan County.

Cora Wilson was a real-life trail blazer. In a time when women struggled for their place in society, she led the way in the field of education. She won her position of school superintendent in a landslide election, and her idea for "moonlight schools" literally transformed literacy in her state.

Without giving too much away, The Moonlight School is really Lucy's story. It's a story of facing your own preconceived notions, questioning the status quo, and finding your purpose in life. Lucy is a worthy protagonist, forcing us to challenge the prejudices we so often hold when it comes to entering new corners of the world.

If anything, the title of the book is a bit misleading. This isn't a book about Cora Wilson, and the concept of the moonlight schools doesn't enter the story until at least halfway through the book. That said, Woods Fisher has definitely done her research. I felt fully immersed in the Rowan County's politics, class divisions, and tactile details. I found myself genuinely craving mountain air and an all day church singing.

A brief side note on shape notes:

Shape Notes are a way of teaching music literacy where the shape of the note corresponds to its pitch within the scale. It's not related to the rhythm, as implied in this book. I know most people won't read The Moonlight School for the shape notes, but this distinction is important to me. People who learn shape notes can literally sight-read any song written in shapes, and can easily work out harmony parts. 
If you love music, I highly recommend digging into this topic on your own! 
Shape notes!

The Moonlight School is a light, enjoyable read 
with engaging characters in a dynamic time and place. 

I recommend reading the book, 
and then digging into the fascinating real-life history, as seen in the photo below...

A real life Moonlight School.

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