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Walk Two Moons, a young adult novel by Sharon Creech, tells the story of Salamanca Hiddle and her journey across the United States with her grandparents, to visit the place where her mother died. Along the way, Sal tells her grandparents the story of her friend Phoebe Winterbottom, a story which has some striking parallels to her own situation. This is a novel about being thirteen, coming to terms with loss and about how we can learn by trying to understand the experience of others. It is also an entertaining, humorous and touching story of travel and discovery.
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Chapters 1 to 3: We are Introduced to Salamanca Hiddle and her Story
We meet the heroine, Salamanca or Sal, a thirteen year old girl, who narrates the story in the first person. She tells us that she grew up in Bybanks, a small town in rural Kentucky. A ‘country girl at heart’, she is disgusted, when her father takes her to live in suburban Euclid Ohio. There, she is introduced to a red haired lady named Margaret Cadaver, whom she didn’t want to meet. At the window of the house next door to Margaret, Sal sees a face looking out. It is the face of Phoebe Winterbottom, who will be Sal’s best friend. Behind the story of Phoebe, we will find the story of Sal.
2. The Chickabiddy Starts a Story
We move forward in time, from the previous chapter to “after all the adventures of Phoebe", when Sal journeys with her paternal grandparents ‘Gram’ and ‘Gramps’, by car to Lewiston, Idaho, some two thousand miles away. This journey will take about a week. Sal is being taken to where her mother is “resting peacefully". In the car, Sal begins to tell her grandparents the story about Phoebe Winterbottom.
We return to the day Sal arrived with her father at Euclid. She meets Mrs. Partridge, Margaret’s mother, but still ignores Margaret and doesn’t want to know the story of how she and her father met. Sal and her father move into a house a couple of blocks away and Sal starts school and gets to know her classmates. Phoebe tells her she is brave, because she picked up a spider, but Sal knows she is afraid of many things. We return to the car, where Sal is telling her grandparents this story. Sal considers the differences between her father’s family the Hiddles and her mother’s family the Pickfords, who are very staid and respectable. We learn that Sal’s mother’s name is Chanhassen, meaning Maple Sugar, but that everyone called her Sugar.
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Chapters 4 to 6: We Meet Phoebe Winterbottom and her Family
4. That’s What I’m Telling You
Sal goes home to dinner with Phoebe. On the way, they meet Mrs. Partridge who touches Phoebe’s face and correctly guesses her age. Phoebe hadn’t realized that Mrs. Partridge is blind. Phoebe starts talking about Margaret, suggesting there is something creepy about her.
5. A Damsel in Distress
In the car, Gram says that Phoebe sounds like a girl she once knew, called Gloria and suggests that Gloria once wanted Gramps for herself. At a rest-stop Gramps notices a woman whose car has engine trouble. Trying to help, he takes the engine to pieces. In the end, the woman calls a mechanic. Gram asks Sal to return to the story of “Peeby".
Sal has dinner with Phoebe’s family. They remind her of the Pickfords, with their formal manners. Sal observes that although Phoebe’s mother plays the role of the perfect housewife, she seems to resent it and is underappreciated by the rest of the family. After dinner, Phoebe tells Sal that she suspects Margaret murdered her husband and buried him in the garden. Eating blackberry pie for dessert reminds Sal of picking blackberries with her mother and an incident in which she revealed she felt inadequate, in the face of her husband’s thoughtfulness.
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Chapters 7 to 10: Sal Continues her Journey and Strange Events at the Winterbottoms
Sal and her grandparents arrive in Illinois and they paddle in Lake Michigan. In bed, Sal remembers how, after her mother left, she slowly started to realize that she could be happy, even without her mother. The next day, they continue their journey, following the route her mother took, to Lewiston, Idaho.
8. The Lunatic
One day, when Sal and Phoebe are alone in Phoebe’s parents’ house, a nervous young man comes to the door, asking for Mrs. Winterbottom. Phoebe suspects he is a dangerous “lunatic".
9. The Message
Sal and Phoebe visit their friend Mary Lou’s house. Phoebe disapproves of the cheerfully noisy and chaotic household. Sal intuits that Phoebe is speaking partly out of loyalty to her own, rather repressed, family. Mary Lou’s Cousin Ben draws a picture of Sal and seems to try to kiss her, his mouth awkwardly landing on her collarbone. At Phoebe’s house, Mrs. Winterbottom is found in tears, though she says nothing is wrong. She is disturbed, when Phoebe tells her about the mysterious young man and asks her not to tell her father. The family is further disturbed, when Sal and Phoebe find a mysterious note left on the porch.
10. Huzza, Huzza
Sal and her grandparents arrive at Madison and explore the town. Gram is enthusiastic and keeps exclaiming “Huzza, huzza!" Sal does not want to send postcards because they remind her of the postcards her mother sent her. Further on in Wisconsin, they stop and watch a Native American dance. Gram somehow becomes the centre of the dance.
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Chapters 11 to 12: Gram Joins in the Dancing and "Everyone has their own Agenda"
Another message found at Phoebe’s “everyone has their own agenda". Sal, Phoebe and Mary Lou try to work out what it means. At the drugstore, Sal and Phoebe spot the young man again. Ben comments that Sal flinches, if she is touched and asks about her mother.
12. The Marriage Bed
Sal and her grandparents talk in the car. They visit the Pipestone National Monument. Sal as narrator tells how her Grandparents got married and the importance of their marriage bed at home.
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Chapters 13 to 15: We Meet the Enthusiastic Mr. Birkway and Gram is Bitten by a Snake
13. Bouncing Birkway
Sal tells her grandparents about the enthusiastic teacher Mr. Birkway. When he collects all the students’ summer journals, many are uncomfortable at the thought he will read them, but he is oblivious. Sal doesn’t have a journal, because she is new.
14. The Rhododendron
Sal and Phoebe are left in Phoebe’s house; through the window, they watch Margaret hack up and uproot a rhododendron bush and, with the help of Mr. Birkway, replant it elsewhere in the garden. Phoebe finds this suspicious. Sal does not like her father spending time with Margaret because it is as though he is forgetting her mother. Sal notices that Mrs. Winterbottom is unhappy and that her children take her for granted, expecting her to run around after them. At home, Sal rejects the present of a sweater, from Margaret and will not listen when her father wants to talk about her.
15. A Snake has a Snack
Sal and her grandparents cool off in the Missouri River. A boy challenges them, saying they are on private property, but, when Gram is bitten by a poisonous snake, he sucks out the poison and directs them to hospital. He stays with them there, all night.
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Chapters 16 to 18: Gram Leaves the Hospital and Sal Talks about her Father
16. The Singing Tree
They check out of the hospital the next day. The boy gives Sal his address. Hearing birdsong outside the hospital, Sal remembers the aspen tree at Bybanks, which always had beautiful birdsong in it. Sal used to imagine that the tree itself sang. When they learned her mother was not coming back, Sal and her grandparents had all slept at the foot of the tree.
17. In the Course of a Lifetime
At Phoebe’s house, her mother is obviously sad and distracted, but her children don’t notice and make demands on her, while simultaneously brushing her off. Another note is delivered.
18. The Good Man
Sal as narrator, tells us about her father. He was one of four sons, but the other three all died in accidents. He is a good man, who likes the simple things in life. His goodness and thoughtfulness, his never being angry, made Sal’s mother feel bad about herself and contributed to her decision to leave, to “learn about what she was". Sal describes her father’s devastation and his decision to leave the farm, which was haunted by her mother and Sal’s own reactions to this.
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Chapters 19 to 21: Phoebe's Mother Disappears
19. Fish in the Air
Sal mentions Phoebe’s suspicions about Margaret to her father. He tells her that her mother is not coming back. In class, Sal daydreams about her mother. Mr. Birkway gives her a “mini journal" to write. On the way home, they are again approached by the “lunatic" and they run off, in a panic. At Phoebe’s house, her mother once again seems upset.
20. The Blackberry Kiss
In her journal, Sal writes about watching her mother go out and eat blackberries and kiss a tree and how she kissed the tree later and tasted blackberries: now she often kisses trees and tastes a hint of blackberry. At school, Sal enjoys studying “the little horse is newlY" by e. e. cummings. On the way home, she lets Ben pretend to read her palm and he awkwardly kisses her ear. At Phoebe’s house, her mother has left notes for her family, which reveal she has gone away “for a few days". Phoebe seems convinced her mother was kidnapped.
At school, Phoebe is quiet and withdrawn. Mr. Birkway has them all draw something in fifteen seconds. Sal and Ben both draw a maple leaf. Phoebe asks Sal to spend the night at her house.
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Chapters 22-24 Phoebe is Distressed by her Mother's Disappearance and Sal and her Grandparents Reach the Badlands
Phoebe is anxious and crying all night and doesn’t want to go to school the next day. Without Mrs. Winterbottom, the household is in chaos. It reminds Sal of when her mother left. At school, Phoebe tells people her mother is on a trip to London. Back at Phoebe’s house, Phoebe looks for evidence that her mother has been kidnapped. They find she has left prepared meals for the family, in the freezer. Sal refuses to have dessert with Margaret. At home, she and her father grieve together for her mother.
23. The Badlands
As Sal and her grandparents reach the Badlands, Gram has trouble breathing. Sal reveals that her mother chose to go to Lewiston, Idaho, because she has a cousin there. Sal narrates an account of how her mother gave birth to a stillborn baby, after carrying Sal, in her arms after she had fallen from a tree. Due to complications, her mother would never be able to have a child again.
24. Birds of Sadness
It is mentioned that Gram once left Gramps, for a short time to live with “the Egg Man". On the way to Mt Rushmore, Sal resumes telling the story of Phoebe. Another mysterious note is left at the house. At school, Ben delivers a report on Prometheus. After school, Sal and Phoebe go to Mary Lou’s house for dinner.
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Chpaters 25 to 27: Phoebe Behaves Badly
At Mary Lou’s, Phoebe behaves badly, commenting on the food and refusing to eat anything other than dry muesli. Only Sal knows that she being like this because of her mother’s disappearance. Sal asks Phoebe to stay with her for the weekend. Phoebe reports that she thinks her father has been crying.
At Sal’s house, Phoebe is a difficult and demanding guest. Sal controls her temper, knowing that Phoebe is acting this way, because of her mother leaving. Her reactions to Phoebe’s behavior make her wonder if this was how her father experienced her own tantrums, after her mother left. At Mary Lou’s Sal is wistful, when she notes the intimacy between Mary Lou’s parents. It reminds her of her own parents, before the stillbirth. Once again, she feels drawn to Ben. That night, Sal hears Phoebe crying in bed, but feels that she just wants to be left alone. Sal dreams of her mother climbing an endless ladder.
27. Pandora’s Box
Phoebe goes home, after the weekend and learns that her mother communicated with Margaret, who is now away. Phoebe speculates that Margaret murdered her mother. At school, Phoebe gives a report on Pandora’s Box and uses the myth to express some of her own fear and anger. Sal also contemplates the meaning of the hope left in Pandora’s Box. She wants to explain to Phoebe that her mother wasn’t kidnapped, but needed to be by herself. When she comes to this point of the story, Sal’s grandparents question further, asking if she meant the disappearance had nothing to do with Phoebe. This helps Sal to understand that her own mother leaving was not about her.
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Chapters 28 to 30: Sal and Phoebe Take Steps to Find Mrs. Winterbottom
28. The Black Hills
Sal and her grandparents visit Mt Rushmore, but it makes them uncomfortable to see the presidents’ faces carved into the sacred mountain of the Sioux and do not stay long.
29. The Tide Rises
Mr. Birkway reads the class “The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls" by Longfellow. Both Sal and Phoebe interpret the poem as being very frightening and about death. It prompts Phoebe to go to the police, straight after school, to report her mother’s disappearance. She is interviewed by Sergeant Bickle and shows him the notes that had been left outside her house. He calls her father who comes to take Phoebe and Sal home.
30. Breaking In
The same night, Phoebe persuades Sal to sneak into Margaret’s house with her, in pursuit of her suspicions that she is somehow responsible for her mother’s disappearance. They encounter Mrs. Partridge, who is sitting in the dark, reading a book in Braille. As they are leaving, Mrs. Partridge mysteriously says she thought she met Phoebe’s brother, recently, but Phoebe replies that she doesn’t have a brother.
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Chapters 31 to 33: Mr Birkway Causes Trouble by Reading Out Class Journals
31. The Photograph
Another message is delivered to Phoebe’s house. At school, Sal makes a clumsy attempt to kiss Ben, but she misses, kissing the door of his locker. Mr. Birkway reads out the journals of the class. Even though he changes the names, people guess who wrote what and friendships are strained. After school, Sal and Phoebe go to the police station again, to talk to Sergeant Bickle. Sal looks at the photograph on his desk and recognizes the “lunatic".
32. Chicken and Blackberry Kisses
Sal and her grandparents stay in a motel over night, so they can see Old Faithful, at Yellowstone Park. Sal resumes her story. She learns that Mr. Birkway and Margaret are twins. At school, Mr. Birkway causes more strife, by continuing to read from the journals. Sal is mortified, when he reads her account of kissing the trees. He is upset, in turn, when he is obliged to read out Phoebe’s suspicions that his sister Margaret murdered her husband and buried him in the garden.
33. The Visitor
After school, Sal goes back to Phoebe’s house. That evening, Mr. Birkway calls round. He apologizes for reading out the journals and explains that Margaret’s husband was killed by a drunk driver and that Mrs. Partridge lost her sight, in the accident.
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Chapters 34 to 36: Old Faithful Erupts and Mrs Winterbottom is Located
34. Old Faithful
Sal and her grandparents watch Old Faithful erupt. Gram is overjoyed that she got to witness this. They continue on their journey to Idaho.
35. The Plan
Sal and Phoebe decide to track down Sergeant Bickle’s son, the “lunatic". They call all the Bickles in the phone book until Sal talks to Sergeant Bickle, disguising her identity and he gives her his son’s address at college.
36. The Visit
The next day, Sal and Phoebe get the bus to find Sergeant Bickle’s son Mike at his university accommodation. They are surprised when Ben gets on the same bus He says he is going to visit someone at the hospital. On the lawn, outside the halls of residence, Sal and Phoebe see Mrs. Winterbottom, kissing the “lunatic".
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Chapters 37 to 40: The Conclusion of Phoebe's Story and Gram Falls Unwell
37. A Kiss
Shocked, Sal runs away, thinking Phoebe is behind her. She finds herself at the hospital and prompted by intuition, asks for Mrs. Finney, Ben’s mother. She finds Ben and his mother on the lawn, outside the hospital. His mother is unresponsive and wanders around. She reminds Sal of her own mother’s distraction, after the stillbirth. Ben and Sal finally kiss, on the lawn.
Sal catches up with Phoebe, who is furious with her mother. When they get home, Phoebe’s sister Prudence announces that their mother has called, and she’s coming home, but bringing someone.
Sal is present for Mrs Winterbottom’s return. The sight of her is a shock, as she has transformed her appearance, with short hair, make-up and jeans and teeshirt. The family are all shocked, when she announces that Mike is her son, who was adopted but has got back in touch. Mr. Winterbottom is upset that his wife had not felt able to tell him, but finally welcomes Mike. Phoebe is disapproving. Sal and Phoebe catch Mrs. Partridge leaving an envelope at the back door.
40. The Gifts
Mrs. Partridge says she left the notes at the door as a sort of present. Phoebe asks her about when she thought she met Phoebe’s brother and she mentions that the young man had come to the door by mistake and Mrs. Partridge felt his face and recognized it as like Phoebe’s. Sal and Phoebe spit in the street, as they had seen Mrs. Winterbottom do at the hospital and feel liberated. Sal finally goes to talk to Margaret to find out how she met her father. Later, Ben brings her a present of a chicken, to remind her of home. Sal says this is the end of the story of Phoebe. As they drive through Idaho, Gram seems worryingly unwell.
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Chapters 41 to 44: Sal Visits her Mother's Grave and Gram Dies and, the Return to Bybanks
41. The Overlook
They take Gram to the hospital, where they say she has had a stroke. Gramps stays with her, while they do tests. A man comes to the hospital, accompanied by his beagle. Sal offers to look after the beagle, outside. She thinks about whether the snakebite could have led to Gram’s stroke and whether her being carried by her mother led to the miscarriage and concludes that you have to take risks in life. She remembers how her own dog, Moody Blue weaned her pups by ignoring them and wonders if her mother leaving was a bit like that. That night, she is allowed to see Gram. She is unconscious. Gramps gives Sal his car keys and some money, tacitly allowing her to drive off to be at Lewiston, in time for her mother’s birthday. She drives along the precipitous road to Lewiston. She gets out of the car and looks over the side, a man stops also and asks if she knew that a bus crashed there a year ago, leaving one survivor. She did know.
42. The Bus and the Willow
Sal climbs down the hill, to where the bus is still lying on its side. She can’t get inside it. When she comes back to the car, the Sheriff is there. She tells him everything and he takes her to her mother’s grave. Sitting there, Sal finally realizes that her mother is not coming back.
43. Our Gooseberry
The Sheriff drives her back to the hospital and she asks him about the crash. They talk about the only survivor, Margaret Cadaver. She had been sitting next to Sal’s mother for six hours on the bus and they had talked. She had told Margaret all about her family and her farm. Sal’s father had gone to see Margaret in hospital, as the only survivor of the crash that killed his wife and that’s how they met. At the hospital, Sal is given a note from her grandfather, directing her to the motel, where he is staying and telling her that her grandmother died at three that morning.
Sal, her father and Gramps moved back to Bybanks, where Gram is buried in the aspen grove. She is much missed. Sal speculates that there is a whole other story that might be told about her grandparents and Gloria, who came to visit Gramps but left with a headache and did not return, after Gramps spent the whole time talking about Gram. Sal and Gramps drive around the farm and they talk together about what it is like to walk in other people’s moccasins. Sal reflects on what she has learned and looks forward to being visited by her friends in Euclid. She is happy being back at Bybanks.
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At the end of this book, we leave Salamance Hiddle with a sense that she is a much wiser and stronger person than the sad and angry little girl who was first brought reluctantly to Euclid, Ohio, by her grieving father. Her epic journey across the US has been in a sense a rite of passage for her, bringing new understanding and maturity. Sal has come to accept the reality of her mother's death, she has made some new friends and had her first taste of romance in her burgeoning relationship with Ben Finney. It is left ambiguous whether anything lasting will develop from it, because as we have learnt, in the adult world, few things are certain.
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Creech, Sharon. Walk Two Moons. New York: Harper Collins, 1994
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Colorado_rocky_mtns.JPG