The Summer of Moonlight Secrets

Image of The Summer of Moonlight Secrets
Release Date: 
May 23, 2011
Walker Books for Young Readers
Reviewed by: 

How cool is it to live at a hotel, especially a grand one built in the 1800s that has a history of stories to tell? Eleven-year-old Allie Jo Jackson considers herself lucky to live at The Meriwether in Florida’s famous hot springs. Her parents manage the facility in their own apartment, and Allie Jo loves having the run of the place. The best parts of the hotel are the hidden staircases, tunnels, and uninhabitable upper floors where she goes to be alone and spend time with Jinx, a stray cat she has adopted.

One night Allie Jo sits by the water lamenting about the long summer ahead, missing her best friend who is away, and bemoaning the girls in her class who make fun of her for living in a hotel. She is startled when she spies a young girl swimming in the springs. Not only is she not a guest, but she is wearing shorts and a shirt, not a bathing suit. When the girl jumps out of the water Allie Jo runs after her, but the elusive teen vanishes.

Soon new guests arrive, including travel writer Mr. Dennison with his young son, Chase, who manages to sneak beyond the restricted area to skateboard on one of the unoccupied floors. Allie Jo pursues him to make him leave; but her pursuit causes him to crash and fall. He breaks his arm, needing to go to the hospital and returns sporting a cast. Of course, as often happens in kids lives after a minor mishap seems to set the wrong course, he and Allie Jo become fast friends.

Before long Allie Jo again encounters the mysterious girl she saw in the springs. The teenager introduces herself as Tara and tells Allie Jo she is a runaway. Allie Jo’s parents summon her before she can learn her story, and it’s all Allie Jo can do to not obsess about the million reasons Tara might have left home. Whatever Tara’s incentive, Allie Jo decides she’s going to help her. Chase is behind her all the way, also promising to keep Tara’s secret.

One day a seedy looking man shows up at the hotel with a picture of Tara, stating he is her uncle. He confirms that she is a runaway, adding that she is also emotionally unstable, which makes Allie Jo and Chase wonder if he is telling the truth—or if he is the reason Tara fled in the first place.

Despite Tara’s weirdness and her strange behavior, Allie Jo envisions her parents adopting Tara as the big sister she always wanted. Chase argues that something is wrong about the “uncle.” Will Allie Jo betray her promise to Tara? Is Tara really mentally ill?

This mesmerizing tale is written entirely in the first person, with Allie Jo, Chase, and Tara each telling their own story with their own chapters. A bit confusing at first as it jumps from one point of view to another, the story soon segues into a logical sequence, meshing the characters into a cohesive whole. Filled with fantasy and whimsy, and set in an historical setting with enchanting characters, The Summer of Moonlight Secrets is a mystery young readers will delight in.