Raven Stole the Moon – Book Review

“Raven is the patron saint of the Tlingit. He’s responsible for bringing the sun and the moon and water and almost everything else, to the earth.” – from Raven Stole the Moon, page 24 of the ARC –

“Do you understand, Ferguson? Raven didn’t just give us the sun, moon, and stars. He had to steal them from someone else.”
“I don’t follow.”
“Stealing is an act of evil. But giving is an act of good. So was Raven good or evil?”
Ferguson felt a little dumb for having to be led to the answer.
“Both. Exactly. You now have a complete understanding of the Tlingit religion.”
– from Raven Stole the Moon, page 46 of the ARC –

Jenna Rosen used to have a wonderful life – married to a man she loved, raising a little boy who meant the world to her. But a fateful trip to Thunder Bay, a lavish resort in Alaska, steals away everything. Bobby, Jenna’s five year old son dies in a drowning accident and Jenna feels responsible for his death. Her way of dealing with the guilt is to turn to alcohol and prescription drugs. Her husband, Robert, turns his grief to anger and directs it mostly at Jenna. Two years after Bobby’s death, Jenna  impulsively leaves Robert and boards a ferry from Seattle to a tiny town in Alaska where her grandmother once lived…looking for answers in  the cold and remote wilderness of Alaska.

Jenna’s journey for closure quickly becomes a terrifying ordeal where Jenna must not only sift through the legends and beliefs of her ancestors, but must face the devastation of her marriage.

On its surface, Raven Stole the Moon is a supernatural thriller which brings to life the Tlingit (pronounced Klink-it) legend of the Kushtaka – otter people who steal the souls of the dead. The Kushtaka are shape-shifters who can appear in whatever guise they desire to trick people into going with them. Jenna almost immediately encounters the Kushtaka upon her arrival in Alaska … and Stein amps up the tension and fear, successfully driving the story forward.

But to classify Raven Stole the Moon as just a thriller would be wrong. There are deeper issues embedded in the novel: how does a parent survive the loss of a child? And how does a marriage evolve or devolve in the aftermath of such an event? What role does religious faith play in recovery? How does someone forgive themselves for a tragedy for which they feel responsible? These questions resonate through the story. Jenna appears to have no religious faith until she discovers the religion of the Tlingit which puts her on a pathway to self-discovery and provides closure for the loss of her son. Her journey is not just a physical journey, it is a spiritual one.

As the sky regained its color and the birds awoke, Jenna stood naked before the world, wondering what was real and what was imagined, trying to fathom an absolute truth, a set of values assigned by some kind of higher being that she could live by, a belief system that would give her the answers she wanted and that she could depend on to survive more than a few thousand years. – from Raven Stole the Moon, page 227 of the ARC –

I read this novel in just under three days. The story pulled me in and made me want to continue reading to find the answers. I loved the German Shepherd who makes an appearance as Jenna’s spirit guide. I admit to being terrified at some of the scenes when Jenna was being pursued by the Kushtaka. That said, the writing is not perfect. At times the dialogue felt stilted and I longed for more development of some of the supporting characters. I did not always understand Jenna or her motivations.

Raven Stole the Moon is Garth Stein’s debut novel – released initially 13 years ago, it is now being re-released by Harper Collins after the success of his bestseller The Art of Racing in the Rain. I loved The Art of Racing in the Rain which I read last year (read my review). There are many differences between the two novels – perhaps most obvious the level of the writing. Stein has certainly grown as a writer in the 13 years between books. Despite some of the flaws in the prose, Raven Stole the Moon is still a worthwhile read, especially for those interested in Native American legend. The strengths of the book are its engaging storyline and the theme of recovery through spiritual awareness.

Enter to win a copy of this book by visiting THIS POST. Drawing to be held on March 11th.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review through Terra Communications.

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  1. I was really interested in this book until I found out it’s a re-release. Your review has piqued my interest again.

  2. Great review … I think it was a little more balanced and informative than mine!

    • Andi on March 5, 2010 at 17:49

    Glad to see your two cents on this one, Wendy. I posted my review on Thursday, and I really enjoyed this book much more than I expected I would. Writing bugged in spots, but the pace of the book was enough to keep me rapt.

    • Rachel on March 5, 2010 at 20:37

    What a beautiful site you have! I’m so glad I came here. I feel like you might be my long lost twin: I love great literature, reading challenges, making lists, and goal setting. Exactly. Also–thanks for commenting at Home Girl’s Book Blog. I love J. Kaye, and believe me, no one was more skeptical of my ability to fill her shoes than I! Hahaha

    • Wendy on March 6, 2010 at 08:21

    Kathy: I was initially surprised about the re-release aspect – but I don’t think it matters. The book, although not perfect, is a fast-paced read which I actually think many people will enjoy.

    Jenners: I thought your review was very well written!

    Andi: Sounds like we are more or less feeling the same way about the book 🙂

    Rachel: THANK YOU! And thanks for dropping by – don’t you love it when you find another blogger of like-mind? I think you have more than filled J. Kaye’s shoes – you go, girl!!!

  3. Great review! I just read this book and thought it was very unique and well written. I think that the mythological qualities of the story were really well done. Glad you liked it!!

    • Wendy on March 12, 2010 at 14:59

    Zibilee: Thanks 🙂 I agree it is very unique…and fast paced too. Glad to see you enjoyed the book!

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