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How High The Moon

Written by Karyn Parsons

Featured Books for 11+ readers Featured Books for 13+ readers

LoveReading View on How High The Moon

Heartfelt history, mystery and injustice in segregation-era America

Illuminating, compassionate and beautifully written, this remarkable fact-based debut tells the story of eleven-year-old Ella, who lives in small town South Carolina with her cousin Henry and orphan Myrna, all three of them cared for by Granny and Poppy while Ella’s jazz singing mama works in Boston. In South Carolina, “bad things can happen to colored folks”, as Myrna describes it, including lynching, and Ella sees Boston as something of a promised land, a place where “coloured folks could go anywhere they wanted”, where “fancy was just life” and people “were sophisticated".

When a telegram arrives inviting her to stay with Mama, Ella is over the moon but, while non-segregation is an eye-opening wonder, Boston life isn’t everything she’d hoped for. With Mama either working at a ship-fitters, working singing in a club, or tired from working, she’s lonely, and also unhappy about having to share her Mama with roommate Helen, with whom Mama shares a bed, and she’s also frustrated by her mother’s evasion of questions about her daddy. Throughout, the novel is subtly brilliant at capturing children’s uncomfortable glimpses into unfathomable aspects of adulthood. Then, when Mama gets a singing opportunity, Ella returns to the family who’ve been missing her like mad and the shocking news that her classmate has been arrested for murdering two white girls.

This authentically-voiced, unforgettable tale of identity, injustice, friendship and resilience is as harrowing on the horrifying realities of racism and segregation as it is suffused in love and hope, with Ella, Henry and Myrna’s alternating narratives providing powerfully captivating insights into how it might have felt to be a black child growing up in the segregation-era Southern States.

Joanne Owen

How High The Moon Synopsis

Boston was nothing like South Carolina. Up there, coloured folks could go anywhere they wanted. Folks didn't wait for church to dress in their fancy clothes. Fancy was just life. Mama was a city girl . . . and now I was going to be one too.

It's 1944, and in a small, Southern, segregated town, eleven-year-old Ella spends her summers running wild with her cousins and friends. But life isn't always so sunny. The deep racial tension that simmers beneath their town's peaceful facade never quite goes away, and Ella misses her mama - a beautiful jazz singer, who lives in Boston. So when an invitation arrives to come to Boston for a visit Ella is ecstatic - and the trip proves life-changing in more ways than one. For the first time, Ella sees what life outside of segregation is like, and begins to dream of a very different future. But her happiness is shattered when she returns home to the news that her classmate has been arrested for the murder of two white girls - and nothing will ever be the same again.

How High The Moon Press Reviews

A stirring, emotionally resonant debut, How High the Moon opens a fresh and sensitive window on a terrifying time, even as it introduces us to a lovable new heroine - Tony Abbott, author of Firegirl and The Great Jeff

A tender and compelling story about loving and belonging. Parsons masterfully takes us on a journey where the political is personal, where the most heartbreaking moments are also profound and beautiful. Ella is a character readers will care about, cry with, and cheer for. How High the Moon is a stunning debut that promises to have readers wanting more and more from Parsons - Renee Watson, author of Piecing Me Together

In How High the Moon, Karyn Parson brings the same verve, timing, and emotive brilliance that she brought to the screen. Equal parts mystery, historical fiction, and coming-of-age, this is a story full of warmth and light and drama that will captivate you. That will haunt you. And that will ultimately enlighten you - Kwame Alexander, author of The Crossover

As compelling as Brown Girl Dreaming, as character-driven as One Crazy Summer, and as historically illuminating as Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry... A riveting read, this novel masterfully presents Southern and Northern conflicts through the perspective of a no-nonsense kid who is trying to find her place in the world. Ella's realistic voice and passionate responses to injustices make her a credible, flawed, and likable character who sees the truth in front of her but often doesn't recognize it. A captivating novel that sheds new light on black childhood - Kirkus (Starred Review)

A talented, engaging new voice. A brave, compassionate, and lovable heroine - Jewell Parker Rhodes, author of Ghost Boys

Parsons is great at unfurling the pleasures of the freer northern states through biracial Ella's eyes, but also adept at handling the subtleties of layered storytelling. -- Kitty Empire - Observer

Parson's sparkling debut grabs us by the heart and leads us by the hand into a painful past filled with revelations, hope, and homecoming. Absolutely glorious! - Rita Williams Garcia, author of One Crazy Summer and Clayton Byrd Goes Underground

So many things about this book were brilliant. A beautiful, funny, dangerous tale of growing up in Jazz Age America, How High The Moon is essential reading, full of voices that must be heard. One of the best stories I've read in a long while - Emma Carroll, author of Letters from the Lighthouse and Secrets of a Sun King

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All versions of this book

ISBN: 9780241346891
Publication date: 07/03/2019
Publisher: Puffin an imprint of Penguin Books Ltd
Format: Paperback

Book Information

ISBN: 9780241346891
Publication date: 7th March 2019
Author: Karyn Parsons
Publisher: Puffin an imprint of Penguin Books Ltd
Format: Paperback
Pagination: 320 pages
Suitable for: 11+ readers, 13+ readers

About Karyn Parsons

Karyn Parsons is perhaps best known for her role as Will Smith's ditsy cousin Hilary Banks in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Karyn has gone on to found Sweet Blackberry, an award-winning foundation which shares stories about unsung black heroes in history, and How High The Moon is Karyn's self-authored debut novel. She lives and works in New York. Follow her on Instagram. 

More About Karyn Parsons

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