Catherine’s dilemma is well known to many teenagers. She is caught between two very different parents who are critical of each other. In addition, her father is an unreliable alcoholic whom she must learn to love if she is to be at peace with herself. Catherine must somehow accept both her “daylight” mother—who is dependable, orderly, and unimaginative—and her father—who is a failed novelist and romantic “moonlight man” who uses his considerable charm to get what he wants, which is often alcohol, and who, in the eyes of most people, is a poor father.
Besides learning to love a wayward father, Catherine must come to terms with another important element in getting to know him. She recognizes the value of his romantic view of life, which makes everything so much more intense for her during the time that they spend together. Harry wants his daughter to see the beauty of variety, of faraway places such as Italian hill towns and Paris, and he excites her with poetry and humor. He also teaches her to rebel against the dullness of being obedient and without imagination. Her mother calls the barn shooting “reckless,” but for Catherine it is much more.
Paula Fox is especially good at revealing everything about a place through the conversation and behavior of her characters. The small town of Mackenzie becomes real through local people such as Mrs. Landy, the cleaning woman; Mr. Ross, the eccentric pastor; and Officer Macbeth, the...
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The Moonlight Man is meant for young adult audiences, but it is emotionally sophisticated and could be read with interest by adults. Paula Fox believes that children are able to understand everything adults do and that they lack only judgment, which comes with experience. While she avoids descriptions of extreme violence and sex, she does not shy away from telling young people that life is often confusing and full of questions that have no answers. The author has said that it is her purpose in her books to present young readers with characters who will enlarge their knowledge of other people, and this is true of The Moonlight Man. By knowing Harry Ames better, Catherine learns to love what is valuable in him.
Fox has been honored for offering honest stories that often do not have happy endings. Although her books have been tagged “depressing” because of their honesty, they have become an important part of young people’s literature. She has received the Newbery Medal for The Slave Dancer (1973), the American Book Award for A Place Apart (1977), and the Hans Christian Andersen Medal for her collected works for children. One-Eyed Cat (1984), a novel for older children, won the Child Study Children’s Book Award and a Christopher Award and was cited as a Newbery Honor Book. The Moonlight Man was selected by The New York Times as one of the notable books for 1986 and also as one of the Child Study Association of America’s Children’s Books of the Year for 1987.