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Walk Two Moons | Plot Summary

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Summary

Road Trip

Walk Two Moons is a story within a story. The protagonist, 13-year-old Salamanca ("Sal") Tree Hiddle, takes a road trip during the month of August, from Euclid, Ohio, to Lewiston, Idaho, with her grandparents. The trip retraces a journey that Sal's mother took and never returned from, having died when her bus crashed in Lewiston, Idaho. Over the course of the trip, Sal entertains her grandparents with a story about her friend Phoebe Winterbottom. The year in which Walk Two Moons takes place is not identified, but contextual clues—such as the presence of cars and televisions—allow the action to be placed during the late 20th century.

Sal grew up with her mother and father on a family farm in rural Bybanks, Kentucky. After Sal's mother, Sugar, died, Sal's father, John, took Sal to live in suburban Euclid, Ohio. In Euclid, Sal's neighbors include Phoebe Winterbottom, a girl her own age, as well as Margaret Cadaver, a woman her father met after her mother's death.

As Sal rides in the car toward Idaho with her paternal grandparents, Gram and Gramps, she tells them about her friend Phoebe, who has a rich imagination and is scared of many things. When Sal meets Phoebe's family, she finds them strange. They are distant and excessively formal with one another. Phoebe believes that their neighbor Margaret Cadaver is evil and that she killed her husband and buried him in the backyard.

A Young Man and a Series of Messages

One day, a young man comes to Phoebe's door asking to talk to her mother, Mrs. Winterbottom. Phoebe decides the young man must be a lunatic with a desire to harm her family. Soon thereafter a message in an envelope mysteriously appears on Phoebe's porch. The message, "Don't judge a man until you've walked two moons in his moccasins," frightens Phoebe and Mrs. Winterbottom. Phoebe thinks the lunatic left it there.

As Sal and her grandparents head west, Sal feels an urge to hurry, because she wants to reach Lewiston by her mother's birthday in a few days. During a stop in Wisconsin, Phoebe finds her grandmother spontaneously participating in a Native American dance.

Sal describes how another message appears on Phoebe's porch: "Everyone has his own agenda." Sal and Phoebe watch their neighbor, Mrs. Cadaver, and make up stories about the evil things she must be doing. Sal resents Mrs. Cadaver because her father seems to be happy in Mrs. Cadaver's presence—as if he had forgotten about Sal's mother. However, Sal refuses to hear her father's explanation about who Mrs. Cadaver is and how he met her. Sal becomes increasingly aware that Mrs. Winterbottom, Phoebe's mother, seems deeply unhappy.

Memories of Sugar

On the road trip, Sal and her grandparents stop at the Missouri River to take a swim. Gram is bitten by a poisonous snake and spends the night in the hospital.

Resuming Phoebe's story, Sal mentions that she's never told Phoebe that her own mother is dead. She observes Phoebe being short and rude with Mrs. Winterbottom. A third message appears on Phoebe's front porch: "In the course of a lifetime, what does it matter?"

Sal recalls how her mother, Sugar, said she was taking a trip west to find out who she was before she was a wife and mother. Sugar, who had Native American ancestry, insisted that her name wasn't really Sugar, but rather Chanhassen, a Native American word meaning "maple sugar." Sugar promised she'd return, but she never did; Sal has not accepted that her mother will never return.

Mrs. Winterbottom Disappears

One day Phoebe's mother leaves suddenly, without explanation. Phoebe thinks the lunatic has kidnapped her. Although they took her for granted, it quickly becomes apparent how much the Winterbottom family struggles without Mrs. Winterbottom around. Phoebe becomes controlling and irritable, but Sal treats her gently, knowing she was probably difficult to be around after her own mother left.

In South Dakota Gram is having trouble breathing. Sal remembers how her mother lost a baby before she went on her trip. Sal feels responsible for the baby's death, because it happened right after Sal broke her leg and her mother carried her to the house.

Resuming Phoebe's story Sal describes the fourth message that appears on Phoebe's doorstep: "You can't keep the birds of sadness from flying over your head, but you can keep them from nesting in your hair." When Mrs. Cadaver leaves a message for the Winterbottoms that Mrs. Winterbottom called and said she is okay, Phoebe thinks Mrs. Cadaver murdered her mother and vows to contact the police.

Sal and her grandparents travel through the Badlands and the Black Hills and stop at Mount Rushmore.

The Investigation

Sal tells how she and Phoebe go to the police to try to get an investigation started, but the police don't take Phoebe seriously. Sal and Phoebe sneak into Mrs. Cadaver's house. Thinking it is empty, they are startled to encounter her mother, blind Mrs. Partridge. Phoebe is confused when Mrs. Partridge claims to have met Phoebe's brother, because Phoebe doesn't have one. A fifth message soon appears: "We never know the worth of water until the well is dry."

Sal and Phoebe go back to the police station and are again dismissed. However, Sal sees the lunatic who came to Phoebe's house in a photograph on the sergeant's desk.

Their English teacher, Mr. Birkway, causes trouble among the students by reading their private journals out loud to the class. Sal learns Mr. Birkway is Mrs. Cadaver's twin brother and that Mrs. Cadaver's husband died in a wreck.

Sal and her grandparents go to Yellowstone National Park so that Gram can fulfill her dream of seeing the geyser Old Faithful.

Sal resumes her story describing how she and Phoebe track down the lunatic, whose name is Mike, by calling the sergeant and pretending to be a friend of his son's. They go to Mike's college dormitory, where they are shocked to see Mrs. Winterbottom holding his hand and kissing his cheek. Phoebe is disgusted with her mother. Back at Phoebe's house, Sal and Phoebe learn that Mrs. Winterbottom plans to return soon and will be bringing someone with her.

Mrs. Winterbottom comes home, bringing Mike with her, and tells the family that Mike is the son she had and gave up for adoption before she was married. Phoebe and Sal catch their neighbor, Mrs. Partridge, putting an envelope on the porch, and realize she has been leaving the messages.

Loss and Rebirth

Sal and Gramps take Gram to the hospital in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Gramps stays by his unconscious wife's side while Sal drives south to Lewiston to the place where her mother's bus wrecked. She is unable to enter the wreckage, but a sheriff takes her to the graveyard nearby where her mother is buried. Sal finally understands that her mother won't be coming back, but believes she is alive in nature, "singing in the trees."

As Sal talks to the sheriff, the reader learns that Mrs. Cadaver was Sugar's seatmate and became her friend during the bus ride to Lewiston. Sugar told Mrs. Cadaver all about her family and home. Mrs. Cadaver was the sole survivor of the bus wreck, and Sal's father met her when he went to Lewiston to bury his wife. Back at the hospital, Sal learns that Gram died while she was in Lewiston.

Sal and her father and grandfather move back to their farm in Bybanks, Kentucky. Sal describes how her time in Euclid and her journey to Idaho taught her the meaning of bravery. Soon Mrs. Cadaver and Phoebe will come for a visit.

Walk Two Moons Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action

Introduction

1 Sugar dies in a wreck while on a trip to Lewiston, Idaho.

Rising Action

2 Sal and her father move from Kentucky to Ohio.

3 Phoebe thinks a stranger at her door is a lunatic.

4 Mysterious messages begin appearing on Phoebe's porch.

5 Phoebe's mother disappears without explanation.

6 Phoebe and Sal see Phoebe's mother kissing the lunatic.

7 Phoebe's mother returns home with the lunatic, her son Mike.

8 Sal and her grandparents begin driving to Idaho.

9 Gram has a stroke and goes into the Coeur d'Alene hospital.

10 Sal drives to Lewiston alone and reaches the wrecked bus.

Climax

11 Visiting Sugar's grave, Sal accepts her mother's death.

Falling Action

12 Sal feels her mother's spirit in the singing tree.

13 Sal and the sheriff discuss the bus wreck.

14 Gram dies in the hospital in Coeur d'Alene.

Resolution

15 Sal returns to live in Kentucky with her father and Gramps.

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