Maggot Moon

illus. by Julian Crouch. 288p. Candlewick. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-6553-1.
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
Gardner (I, Coriander, rev. 8/05) here imagines an alternate, dystopic UK: a repressive 1950s regime that calls itself the Motherland, abhors "impurities," is led by a man with a bad haircut, and consigns undesirables to the derelict housing of Zone Seven. That's where fifteen-year-old Standish Treadwell and his Gramps survive, thanks to Gramps's ingenuity at reusing and bartering. Out of this life of hard-won subsistence and oppressive schooling, Standish tells the story of his friendship with "supernova bright" Hector next door -- Hector, who realizes that dyslexic Standish may not have a train-track mind, but has imagination "in bucketloads." When Hector and his parents disappear, taken by the authorities, Standish sets out to rescue and avenge him, and uncovers a grotesque government hoax. 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. "The place smelled of over-boiled cabbage, cigarettes, and corruption," he notes of his school; or, "What he was doing there I hadn't a snowflake of an idea." Even the chronology of Standish's story depends on a rearrangement of order, where present, past, and future stand side by side. Most appealing of all, however, is Standish Treadwell himself: tender, incisive, brave, and determined, he takes a stand and treads well. Frequent pencil illustrations that function almost as a flipbook underscore the story's subtext of the unending cycle of violence and death. deirdre f. baker

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