Review: Valley of the Moon

Valley of the Moon: The Diary of MarĂ­a Rosalia de Milagros, Sonoma Valley, Alta Valley, California, 1846, (Dear America)Valley of the Moon
by Sherry Garland

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Valley of the Moon (California) / 0-439-08820-8

Maria Rosalia is an orphan, half-Mexican and half-Indian, whose American Indian mother died of smallpox years ago when Maria was only a small child. Employed as a servant in the household of the rich Medina family, she longs to know where she came from and what her heritage is.

This fascinating doorway into California in the 1840's realistically portrays the tensions between the californios (the Spanish Californians) and the americanos (immigrants from the United States) as the settlers to the California territory struggle against each other in order to determine who shall rule California. Those caught in between this struggle - the American Indians and the relatively powerless women and children in the area - must simply watch and pray that their lives are not too uprooted by the violent atmosphere rapidly developing. Maria's life, as she watches these events carefully, revolves around the daily demands of the Medina daughters. As she interacts with both Spanish gentry and American Indian servants, Maria seeks to find her true identity through her mixed heritage.

"Valley of the Moon" is a compelling read, with wonderful attention to historical detail and beautiful cultural touches. For parents, there is some amount of violence (a bull fight), some mortal danger (a sick child who everyone fears may die, and a miscarried pregnancy), and some references to sex and sexuality (the eldest Medina daughter is being courted for her "hips and thighs" which are widely regarded in the area as being good for childbearing). However, these topics are handled with grace, as is usual for the Dear America books.

~ Ana Mardoll

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