Just when it seems that there’s nothing new under the dystopian sun, Gardner (The Red Necklace) produces an original and unforgettable novel about a boy in a totalitarian society who risks everything in the name of friendship. Standish Treadwell narrates in short, fast-paced chapters, illustrated by theatrical designer/director Crouch with flipbook-style images of rats, flies, and maggots: creatures that represent the oppressive forces at work in the Motherland, a brutish government intent on being first to the moon, at whatever cost to its citizens. Fifteen-year-old Standish is dyslexic (as is the author), making him a target of bullies, which is the least of his problems. He lives with his resourceful grandfather in Zone Seven, but the Motherland has taken away his parents, as well as his best friend, Hector. The loss of his parents has created a hole Standish cannot fill; the disappearance of Hector leaves Standish unprotected at school and bereft of a friend who saw past Standish’s disability to recognize his intelligence. “I believe the best thing we have is our imagination,” Standish recalls Hector telling him, “and you have that in bucketloads.” Though Standish’s grandfather keeps the boy purposefully in the dark about many things, Standish figures out one of the government’s big secrets on his own, and he concocts a brave and personally risky plan to reveal it. Parts of the story are very hard to read—early on, a classmate is beaten to death by a teacher in the schoolyard—but the violence asks readers to consider what the world would be like if certain events in history had turned out differently. Gardner does a masterful job of portraying Standish’s dyslexia through the linguistic swerves of his narration, and although the ending is pure heartbreak, she leaves readers with a hopeful message about the power of one boy to stand up to evil. Ages 12–up. Agent: Catherine Clarke, Felicity Bryan Associates. (Feb.)
Gr 9 Up—In a grimly surreal alternate 1950s, 15-year-old Standish Treadwell leads a bleak life under a totalitarian government reminiscent of World War II Germany and Cold War Soviet Union. Struggling with an unspecified learning disability, he doesn't fit in-he dreams of a land of Croca-Colas and plans an imaginary mission to planet Juniper with his best friend, Hector-until Hector and his family are abruptly taken away because they know too much about the government's machinations. Standish's quirky first-person voice and fragmented storytelling gradually reveal that the government is intent on winning a propaganda-filled space race and will go to any length, including a massive hoax, to appear victorious. The story borders on allegory, and the setting is deliberately vague. It is implied that the details that led to this dystopian society are not important; the crucial point is that Standish becomes determined that he, an individual, can take action against a cruel and powerful regime. With brief chapters and short sentences, the prose appears deceptively simple, but the challenging subject matter makes for a highly cerebral reading experience. Stomach-churning illustrations of flies, rats, and maggots accompany the text, creating a parallel graphical narrative that emphasizes key moments in the plot. Though its harsh setting and brutal violence may not appeal to those seeking a happy ending, the story's Orwellian overtones will fuel much speculation and discussion among readers.—Allison Tran, Mission Viejo Library, CA
Standish Treadwell, 15, has lost parents, neighbors, best friend: All disappeared from Zone Seven, a post-war occupied territory, into the hellish clutches of the Motherland. Now a new horror approaches. Though it's unnamed, the Motherland's distinguishing features scream "Nazi Germany." Life in Zone Seven is a dreary round of familiar miseries. Standish and Hector spin fantasies about the far-off tantalizing consumer culture they glimpsed on television (now banned), but they lack a vision of the future beyond vague dreams of rescue. Food is scarce; surveillance constant. Loved ones vanish; teachers beat children to death while classmates look on. Abetting the powerful, residents inform on their neighbors for food. Kindness revealed is punished; solutions are final. Call it Auschwitz lite. Why the brutal state bothers to educate those, like Standish, labeled "impure" (his eyes are of different colors and he's dyslexic), is unclear. Despite short chapters and simple vocabulary and syntax, the detailed, sadistic violence makes this is a poor choice for younger readers, while oversimplified characters, a feeble setting and inauthentic science make it a tough sell for older ones. In this nuance- and complexity-free world, scarcity rules. Standish dreams of "ice-cream-colored Cadillacs" and drinking "Croca-Colas." Wealth-disparity, climate change and childhood obesity don't exist. Despite intentions, this tale never connects past to present, resulting in a book with a message but no resonance. (Speculative fiction. 13 & up)
Gardner does a masterful job of portraying Standish’s dyslexia through the linguistic swerves of his narration, and although the ending is pure heartbreak, she leaves readers with a hopeful message about the power of one boy to stand up to evil
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
This is alt-history second; first, it is an eerie, commanding drama.
—Booklist (starred review)
Standish’s tale has the terse, energetic tension of poetry; his phrases and sentences roll out with irony, tenderness, horror, or love, but always vividly...Most appealing of all, however, is Standish Treadwell himself: tender, incisive, brave, and determined, he takes a stand and treads well.
—The Horn Book (starred review)
With brief chapters and short sentences, the prose appears deceptively simple, but the challenging subject matter makes for a highly cerebral reading experience. Stomach-churning illustrations of flies, rats, and maggots accompany the text, creating a parallel graphical narrative that emphasizes key moments in the plot.
—School Library Journal
Standish’s tone switches with lightning speed from recklessly hopeful to violently despondent to casually aloof as he attempts to reclaim just a portion of what has been taken from him, and readers will be haunted by the sacrifice he ultimately makes long after they finish this quick read...Ideal for spurring discussion in both book clubs and English classes, this could also easily be used in a history curriculum to imagine the 'what if' scenarios of the past.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
In one hundred chapters, Gardner explores a world where creativity is denied and uniformity is celebrated. The story is only enhanced by Julian Crouch’s black-and-white illustrations that grace every page, running like a flipbook. Standish’s story is a dark, haunting tale of secrets, lies, and those who fight for the truth.
This book tackles the dystopian genre in a truly unique manner. ... The novel is both thrilling and heart-wrenching. The story moves at a gripping pace, drawing the reader in. ... This title would make a distinctive addition to a young adult collection.
—Library Media Connection
Bookstore shelves so groan with works of dystopian fiction for adolescents that the stories can seem to run together into a blur of wasted landscapes, blighted civilizations and warrior teens falling in love. Then comes a book like Sally Gardner's brilliant, shattering MAGGOT MOON and suddenly dystopia feels new again; it reclaims its power to shock… Julian Crouch's drawings run in silent, chilling commentary through the pages of this difficult and beautiful story for readers over the age of 13.
—The Wall Street Journal
This novel will just blow you away...Such a beautiful read...this certainly has the potential to become a modern classic.
—The Bookseller (U.K.)
Startlingly original, sophisticated and moving, MAGGOT MOON is out of this world.
—The Sunday Times (U.K)
Dazzling, chilling, breathtaking. A perfect book.
MAGGOT MOON left me stunned in the best possible way... When I finished MAGGOT MOON, I was in that mode of pensive stunned silence, mulling over the messages of Gardner’s book. Reflecting on the book a few days after finishing it, I find myself slipping back into that pensive mood, and I think that’s the best gift an author can give.
—Young Adults Book Central
Now an award-winning author, her newest book, MAGGOT MOON, is the best dystopian novel in recent memory.
—PW Tip Sheet
Sally Gardner tells a story that is rich in drama and ideas.
Maggot Moon is an extraordinary, moving piece of literature...
—Sunday Kenosha News