SUMMARY: When the mysterious Vincent Morthanos arrives to stay at her father’s inn, 16-year-old Cynda is mesmerized. His charm and sensitivity are irresistible. His attentiveness is constant. Cynda’s sure she’s in love. Daring to hope that the stranger shares her feelings, Cynda is innocently blind to who he really is–or to the terrible danger of coming under his spell. (summary from Goodreads).
READALIKES: “The Highwayman” (poem by Alfred Noyes); The Old Willis Place and many others by Mary Downing Hahn; anything by Lois Duncan (my personal favorite is Ransom)
- Overall: 4/5
- Creativity: 4/5
- Characters: 4/5
- Engrossing: 4/5
- Writing: 4/5
- Appeal to teens: 5/5
- Appropriate length to tell the story: 5/5
- Language: none
- Sexuality: mild; large age gaps in the relationships; some kissing and staring at breasts through shirt
- Violence: moderate; vampire feeds on willing and unwilling victims; murdered girls’ ghosts haunt the inn; a violent death
- Drugs/Alcohol: very mild; adults drink wine
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We have it, but it hasn’t been very popular so far (maybe because of the dated cover). Only three students before me had checked it out since 2009. Now that I have read and enjoyed it, I will be recommending it to many.
WARNING: The reviews on this site are intended for librarians who need thorough book reviews in order to make informed purchasing decisions. As such, anything below this warning may contain mild spoilers. I try not to give away too much, but I do review the entire book.
WHAT I LIKED: I’m a little embarrassed to admit that after 3 years in the middle school library, this is my first Mary Downing Hahn book. I know, I know, my students would be shocked, especially since I recommend Hahn’s books frequently and constantly hear from students who love her books.
Look for Me By Moonlight starts quickly and sets up multiple conflicts within the first 50 pages. There is a developing romance, a mysterious stranger, and a murdered girl’s ghost, all against the backdrop of an insecure teen girl trying to fit into her father’s new family. Cynda’s half-brother’s intense fear of the “wolf” and seemingly irrational hatred of Vincent adds to the suspense, as does the spooky and frigid backdrop of the inn itself.
Protagonist Cynda’s character is complex, her motives understandable and believable. Though he irritates her plenty, Cynda feels both protective and jealous of her five-year old stepbrother, Todd. She desperately craves her father’s attention, yet her subtle attempts to garner his attention are lost on all of them. Though Cynda likes the new family, she clearly feels isolated from all of them at the same time. She feels drawn to Vincent, yet at the same time feels something is wrong about the way he looks at her.
I love how easily Cynda falls into Vincent’s trap; he plays on her insecurities to enchant and manipulate her, which may help teen readers to spot that type of manipulation in their own lives. That Cynda ignores her own warning bells rings true to what people do in their own lives every day. How many people regret their own actions when they don’t listen to their own better judgment? How many people fall into manipulative traps every day and regret it for the rest of their lives?
I picked up Look For Me By Moonlight mainly because of the title, which is a quotation from Alfred Noyes’s poem “The Highwayman.” Since I first read it in seventh grade, “The Highwayman” has been my all-time favorite poem. I get tears in my eyes every time I read it or even think about it, so I know no story is ever going to live up to my nostalgia for “The Highwayman.” That said, I love how Hahn masterfully encompasses the creepy setting of the poem without trying to copy its plot. While “The Highwayman” is a story of a tragic love triangle, Look For Me By Moonlight is more a story of predator and prey. So cool.
Look For Me By Moonlight won’t be my last Mary Downing Hahn book. Hahn is a master at setting up a creepy scene and adding interesting, complex characters that have problems readers will relate to. The writing is simple enough for a reluctant middle school reader yet interesting enough to hold an adult reader’s attention.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:
*BIG OL’ SPOILER HERE–SCROLL DOWN A FEW LINES IF YOU ARE SURE YOU WANT TO CONTINUE!*
(you’re almost there…)
There are several major “Ick” factors in this story:
Ick Factor #1— Every time Vincent drank from little Todd, my stomach turned a little. Drink from Cynda all you want, pretty boy, she got herself into this mess and now needs to find a way out of it. I’m rooting for her, but it’s her own fault. But Todd? Todd, who feared Vincent from the get-go, tried to warn everyone to no avail, sweet little baby FIVE YEAR OLD Todd, exposing his tender little neck for some nasty thing to drink from? That’s just not right.
Ick Factor #2— What is with Cynda’s dad and his child bride? Let’s do some math here. If Cynda was six when her dad left the family and is now sixteen, that would mean that her dad left ten years ago. In the story Cynda mentions that Susan is probably in her “late 20s.” That would have made Susan only slightly older than Cynda is now when she met Cynda’s dad, who must have been around thirty when he met her (he had a six-year old daughter and was married). He has a good 10-12 years on her, which isn’t terrible if you are in your forties, but in this case, Susan was still a teenager dating a thirty-year old man. YUCK.
Ick Factor #3— While Vincent “could not be older than thirty” and Cynda is only sixteen, Vincent desires (or pretends to desire) Cynda sexually. Cynda says Vincent’s eyes “lingered on my lips and then moved to my breasts” (78), and the pair kisses passionately several times. GROSS. Then, later, Vincent talks about becoming Cynda and Todd’s “father,” and I actually threw up in my mouth a little bit. Vincent wants to be Cynda’s father after he made out with her? It’s just not right, and I felt icky reading about it. I wish Hahn had made Vincent ten years younger and preferring Cynda as a bride rather than a daughter.