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Last Updated on February 2, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1431

Walk Two Moons has received five prestigious awards, including the Newbery Medal in 1995. The Ohio-born author, Sharon Creech, attributes the title of the book to a message she discovered inside a fortune cookie while she was finishing her manuscript: “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.” The plot is separated into three separate settings that intermingle throughout the story to illustrate the personal transformation of the lead character, Salamanca Tree Hiddle, known as Sal. She is a thirteen-year-old girl who is homesick for her farm in the fictional town of Bybanks, Kentucky, and who misses her mother with a desperate intensity that dominates the story. The book is framed around a road trip Sal takes with her grandparents from Euclid, Ohio, to Lewiston, Idaho, where her mother fled after a tragic miscarriage and a bout with depression. Sal and her grandparents trace the route her mother took west, visiting the places she described in postcards she sent them.

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Throughout the road trip, Sal recalls memories of her mother before she left their home in Bybanks. She also tells stories to her grandparents about the recent disappearance of Phoebe Winterbottom’s mother, the appearance of the Lunatic, and her budding romance with a classmate named Ben. In turn, Sal’s grandparents relate stories about their own lives and marriage.

Sal’s memories of her mother, Sugar, are both sweet and sad. Sal’s early memories of her mother reveal a woman who adores her husband, her daughter, and life on their family farm. Sugar loves anything to do with nature, including insects, animals, and sugar maple trees (after which she was named). Of particular importance are the wild blackberries Sal would pick with her mother in the spring. Sugar’s kisses often smelled like blackberries, so the berries come to represent her mother to Salamanca, as do the trees for which they are each named.

Sal’s parents dream of “filling up the house with children,” but when Sugar gives birth to a stillborn daughter and subsequently undergoes an emergency hysterectomy necessitated by complications with the birth, she struggles with her roles as a wife and mother and falls slowly into a depression. Sugar hopes to find relief during a visit to her cousin, so she travels to Lewiston, Idaho. But she does not return. The details of Sugar’s experience in Idaho are vague until the last few chapters of the book.

Sal struggles with guilt because of an accident she had the day of the stillbirth, which caused her mother to carry her for a short distance. She also feels guilty because she has an intermittent desire to move on without her mother. Her father’s grief proves to be too painful; he moves Sal and himself to Ohio where his new friend, Margaret Cadaver, has found him a new job. Sal is resentful of her father’s relationship with Margaret. She attempts to avoid Margaret and her blind, eccentric mother, Mrs. Partridge, when possible. Then Salamanca meets Phoebe.

The girl’s friendship begins when Sal spots Phoebe Winterbottom peering from her bedroom window across the street from Margaret Cadaver’s house. Phoebe thinks Margaret and her eccentric mother are peculiar and have possibly murdered the late Mr. Cadaver. Because Sal is eager to find fault with the new woman in her father’s life, she agrees with Phoebe although her better judgment tells her otherwise.

Dinner at the home of Mary Lou Finney, a new friend, reveals a sharp contrast between the Winterbottom family and the Finney family, who live in a home full of children in comfortable chaos. Mary Lou’s family shows more concern for meeting each other’s needs and being together than appearing to be perfect, as Phoebe’s family prefers. After Mary Lou’s cousin Ben plants a misplaced kiss on Salamanca’s collarbone, her own young romance begins to blossom.

When Phoebe’s mother disappears, a strange young man comes by asking for Phoebe’s mother, and mysterious notes begin to appear on the doorstep, Phoebe’s imagination whirls out of control. The girls suspect Margaret, Mrs. Partridge, or the young “Lunatic” is involved in Mrs. Winterbottom’s disappearance. They make several attempts to find Phoebe’s mother, including breaking into the Cadaver home to search for clues, making a visit to the local police station, and finally following the Lunatic to his university dorm.

As Phoebe’s façade begins to crumble and she begins to behave unkindly toward her friends and family, Sal gains a different perspective about the way she treated her own father after her mother left. She regrets her behavior, although it allows her to sympathize and remain patient with Phoebe. When she discovers that Ben’s mother has been hospitalized in a psychiatric ward, she accepts this without judgment. This allows her relationship with Ben to mature as well.

In the end, Mrs. Winterbottom returns home to reveal that the Lunatic is really her son Michael, whom she gave up for adoption as a young unmarried woman. The mysterious notes are friendly messages from Mrs. Partridge, and Margaret Cadaver’s husband was killed in an accident with a drunk driver. Mrs. Winterbottom admits that she is not a perfect woman and hopes to trade her polished life for a relationship with her newly found son; her husband makes an effort to accept Michael into their family. Phoebe and Sal demonstrate their acceptance of imperfection by spitting on the ground.

As Sal tells Phoebe’s story in her own words, she recognizes the unmistakable connection between the Winterbottom’s story and her own. She begins to understand why her own mother left her family and why her father also felt the need to escape their farm to accept the loss of his wife.

Beginning from Sal’s current home in Ohio, she and her grandparents have six days to reach Idaho to arrive there in time for Sugar’s birthday. The trip west has both a sense of urgency and dread for Sal. Sal believes that if she can make it to Lewiston in time, she will be able to bring her mother home. Her grandparents are incredibly kind but also peculiar and prone to trouble. Along the way, Gram dances with a tribe of American Indians, at a rest stop Gramps dismantles a woman’s “carbusterator,” the trio smokes a peace pipe, and they narrowly escape being robbed by an adolescent boy named Fleet. While cooling off in a river, Gram is bitten by a poisonous water snake and is rushed to a nearby hospital. She receives treatment there but never fully recovers.

As the Hiddles pass the hours listening to Sal’s stories and drive from landmark to landmark, Salamanca begins to understand why her mother felt she needed a change of scenery. Once she finishes her report on the Winterbottom family and shortly before they arrive at their final destination, Gram suffers a stroke and is admitted to the hospital in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. With the unspoken permission of her grandfather, Sal drives the last hundred miles to Lewiston on her own in the dark. On the dangerous and curvy mountain road outside of town, she stops at a lookout where her mother’s bus went over a cliff almost a year earlier. With this heartbreaking revelation, readers also learn that the accident’s sole survivor was her father’s new friend, Margaret Cadaver. During her mother’s long trip from Kentucky to Idaho, the two women sat together and came to know each other intimately. It is through Margaret that Salamanca and her father believe Sugar intended to return home to her family, had she not died in the accident.

The local sheriff discovers Sal and saves her from remaking the treacherous trip back down the mountainous road. He takes her to visit her mother’s grave, where Salamanca finally accepts the fact that her mother will not be returning home. The sheriff and his deputy accompany Sal back to the hospital at Coeur d’Alene, where they learn that Gram passed away during the previous night. On the way back home, Sal and Gramps take turns playing Walk Two Moons, where they imagine what they might do, or how if they might feel, if they were someone else.

The last chapter finds Sal, her father, and Gramps back on the farm in Bybanks, living together, accepting their losses, and peacefully attempting to rebuild their lives in the absence of the two women they loved most.

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