Thursday, 3 October 2013

Guest Book Review: Maggot Moon by Sally Gardener

Each year I have the pleasure of working with a group of readers to collectively select the books that will feature in a reading programme, Summer Reads. Between August 2013 and January 2014, the Readers' Circle will work through a longlist of more than 150 books to find the 6 titles that we fall in love with and want to recommend to other readers. And throughout that period I'll be posting some of the reviews here on Books, Time and Silence. 
*Thanks to the publisher for providing review copies of this book.

Guest Review by Pearl Crossfield

Maggot Moon is a young adult novel that has the potential to appeal to a wide range of ages. Sally Gardner dedicates her book to 'the dreamers / Overlooked at school /  Never won prizes - you who will own tomorrow'  and this pretty well sums up both the protagonist of the story and the plot line.  Standish Treadwell is a teenager who appears to suffer from dyslexia, who  'can’t read / can’t write' and is bullied at school.  For him the words on the blackboard are 'just circus horses dancing up and down', they mean nothing and he prefers his daydreaming life because it’s better than being 'worried sick' all the time. Yet  Standish is clever, has imagination and courage and eventually achieves a great victory, albeit a bitter-sweet one.

The drawings scattered throughout the pages feature the life cycle of the fly and the death of a rat.  The drawings are cartoon-like and offer a skillful way of holding a distracted children’s attention. The images tell a story of death and regeneration, a life cycle explored through decaying matter and the food chain. Sally Gardner and illustrator Julian Crouch cleverly draw a parallel with an infestation of maggots both in the natural world and in the society the characters are living in, and alludes to the title and the somber themes of the book.

Any reader no matter what age could appreciate this book on several different levels.  It is imaginative, with a clever use of language, Standish may not be able to read and write but he has a broad vocabulary, saying 'I collect words - they are sweets in the mouth of sound'.  He can use words in a humorous way too, when describing a teacher he says, 'Never would I have thought that the hard boiled Miss Philips had such a soft, sweet centre'.  Despite the short, tight chapters (some only a paragraph), and the humour, it is not a light read at all.  It is a fable, but a rather bleak and grim one. We never quite get a sense of the setting and I found myself wondering whether the characters were perhaps living in an alternative history, a kind of post World War Two totalitarian regime. There could also be historical parallels drawn here with the deception of the moon landing, since there have been conspiracy theories about moon landings, hoaxes supposedly staged by NASA. I’m sure that each reader will create their own idea of this world but you probably need to be older to appreciate the historical realism, and to see what Standish, as first person narrator, does not see at first, the gap between the appearance and the reality.  The characterization is good, particularly Standish, and despite his oddness and the weirdness surrounding him he becomes a rounded, real person, a “crazy brave muddle” who we want to find freedom for himself and his friends and family.

This is an unusual book, a quick read but a thought provoking one.

Maggot Moon was published by Hot Key Books in 2013. Edition shown is paperback edition, ISBN 9781471400445, 279pp

Pearl Crossfield has recently retired after a career working for an Insurance Company and Local Government.  She can’t remember a time when she did not enjoy reading and recently studied Literature part-time with the Open University.  After all, there's little better than being able to discuss books with other like-minded people!

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