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In Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, Phoebe's story relates to Sal's in that Phoebe's mother leaves, just as Sal’s mother leaves. There is an important difference, however. Phoebe’s mother finally returns. Nevertheless, during the period when she is gone and Phoebe does not know where she is, they are sympathetic to one another about how they feel regarding their absent mothers.

Sal recognizes the similarity in their stories. When she thinks about Phoebe and Mrs. Winterbottom, it reminds her of her own story. She says,

My father started chipping away at a plaster wall in the living room of our house in Bybanks, shortly after my mother left us one April morning ... Each night, as he waited to hear from my mother, he chipped away at that wall.

On the night that we got the bad news—that she was not returning—he pounded and pounded on that wall with a chisel and a hammer. ...

The reason that Phoebe's story reminds me of that plaster wail and the hidden fireplace is that beneath Phoebe's story was another one. It was about me and my own mother.

Later she says, “When my mother left for Lewiston, Idaho, that April my first thoughts were, 'How could she do that? How could she leave me, when I am part of her? How could she function without part of her?'”

After Phoebe’s mother leaves, Phoebe tells Sal, “My mother has disappeared. Sal, don't tell anyone. Don't tell a soul." Although she does not articulate it, it seems likely that Phoebe is also wondering how her mother could leave her. Moreover, Phoebe is worried, and she is also somewhat uncomfortable having other people know. In a sense, she is embarrassed. This makes her somewhat of an outsider among her classmates. Similarly, Sal is a bit of an outsider too. When her mother leaves them, her father cannot bear to remain in their home and they move, so Sal is a stranger in a new town and an outsider in a very real sense.

There are other similarities in their stories. In both circumstances, the catalyst that causes the mother to leave is related to another child. In Sal’s case, her mother miscarries and goes into a deep depression. With Mrs. Winterbottom, it is the sudden appearance of a son she gave up for adoption years before that sends her into an emotional state and causes her to leave her family temporarily.

Phoebe’s mother runs away in response to the “lunatic” who comes to Phoebe’s house one day asking for Mrs. Winterbottom. Neither girl realizes at the time that this is what spurred Mrs. Winterbottom’s departure, but it becomes clear as the story unfolds.

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Phoebe and Sal are both trying to come to terms with their mother being gone.

Sal's mother died in a bus accident while she was returning to her family. However, before she died, she had run away from her husband and Sal—something Sal is still coming to terms with. Before the end of the novel, she travels to the site of her mother's death, learns more about her life, and is able to accept that her mother was returning home when she died.

Phoebe faces a different struggle with her mother. Her mother left home and hasn't returned; Phoebe thinks that something has happened to her. Her mother does eventually come home, however, and explains that she was trying to find herself and come to terms with her past. She'd given up a child for adoption and never told her husband. She accepts herself, allows herself an identity outside of being a mother and wife, and comes home.

Both girls face struggles in their other relationships when their mothers are gone. It's through viewing Phoebe's struggles that Sal is able to recognize her own negative behaviors in the wake of Sugar's disappearance and death. She can also see why her mother might have left when she recognizes what happened to Mrs. Winterbottom and comes to understand why she left Phoebe and her family for a time.

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Walk Two Moons is Sharon Creech’s 1994 novel which won the Newbery Medal. The title comes from the aphorism “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.” As such, the title sets up the idea that there will be intersecting stories in which characters will be able to learn from each other.

Two of those characters are Phoebe and Sal, who both deal with difficult family dynamics related to their mothers. Sal’s mother longed for a house full of children. After giving birth to Sal, her mother had a miscarriage and subsequent hysterectomy which destroyed that dream. In order to come to terms with her new identity, Sal’s mother takes a trip to Idaho in order to revisit her roots. Sal has difficulty understanding why her mother is not satisfied with just Sal as a child, and these feelings manifest as ideas of inadequacy.

For Phoebe, she is dealing with recently revealed information that her mother previously gave up a son for adoption. This revelation, which comes when the son arrives at their house, causes Phoebe’s mother to run away. Unable to deal with her mother running away and facing the truth behind the motivation, Phoebe lies and claims her mother was kidnapped.

Sal and Phoebe are able to relate to each other by the anger they both feel toward their mothers. They must come to terms with the fact that their mothers are imperfect beings and work toward trying to repair their relationships. Phoebe gets that opportunity when her mother returns, but Sal never does as her mother is killed in a bus accident.

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Phoebe and Sal must both deal with the fact that their mothers voluntarily left their families, though for different reasons. Sal’s mother had a miscarriage and a hysterectomy, which meant she would not be able to have any more children, even though she desperately wanted them. She wanted a house full of children. She begins to question who she is, besides a wife and a mother. She decides to go on a bus trip to visit her cousin in Idaho, someone who knew her when she was a girl. Sal has difficulty, first of all, in understanding why her mother wanted more children. Wasn’t Sal enough? Also, she cannot understand why her mother cannot “find herself” at home with her immediate family.

Phoebe’s mother leaves home to process the sudden appearance of the son whom she gave up for adoption before she was married. Like Sal, Phoebe cannot understand why her mother left, so she makes up a story that her mother was kidnapped against her will, rather than chose to leave.

In the end, the reader learns that Phoebe’s mother returns with her son, but Sal’s mother was killed in a bus accident on her way to Idaho. Sal must come to terms with that death, while Phoebe must come to terms with the fact that she has a brother and that her mother had a whole different life before she was married. In the end, both make the adjustment, though uneasily.

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How is Sal's story different from Phoebe's story in Walk Two Moons?

We know from the beginning of the book that Sal’s mother left their home in Bybanks, Kentucky, and has not come back. As we keep reading, we learn bits and pieces of the back story. It seems as though Chanhassen “Sugar” Hiddle, Sal’s mother, lost a baby in childbirth and could not have any more. She needed some time away to recuperate from the loss and do some thinking. She made arrangements to travel by bus to visit a cousin out in Idaho. For the majority of the book, readers are not quite sure why she hasn’t come back. Is she chronically ill, either physically or mentally? Is she dead?

Phoebe’s mother also leaves the family for a time. Sal sensed the woman’s unhappiness and discomfort even before she left, before she left notes for Phoebe, Prudence, and their father. In this case, it turns out that Norma Winterbottom has been reunited with a son that she gave up for adoption long ago, before she met her husband. His name is Mike, and he’s a college student. She brings him along when she returns home. Now the Winterbottoms will have to figure out how they feel about this new development. Both stories are about how mothers deal with children that they’ve lost: in different ways, and with different endings.

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In Walk Two Moons, how is Sal's story hidden behind Phoebe's?

In Phoebe’s story, Phoebe must confront the fact that her mother left for a reason that might not be about Phoebe. Mrs. Winterbottom left notes (and frozen meals) for her family, but she did not give a reason for why she had to leave. Phoebe tries to convince herself, and everyone else, that her mother did not leave of her own free will. To deal with her emotional turmoil, Phoebe comes up with a “game” of detective, believing that her mother was kidnapped and that Phoebe must track her down and rescue her. Sal sees in Phoebe her own self and her difficulty in facing the fact that her own mother also left of her own free will. Sal feels guilty about her lack of understanding of her mother and thinks that this may have had something to do with the fact that her mother is not returning home. As she helps Phoebe with Mrs. Winterbottom’s disappearance, she learns lessons for herself, and comes to realize that her mother needed to leave to deal with the tragedy that has entered her life. Sal’s “game” of the road trip to Idaho to bring her mother back home in time for her mother’s birthday is similar to Phoebe’s detective search. Though Phoebe’s outcome is different than her own, Sal finds some measure of closure and comes to terms with the fact of her mother’s leaving and not returning.

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