What if the football hadn’t gone over the wall. On the other side of the wall there is a dark secret. And the devil. And the Moon Man. And the Motherland doesn’t want anyone to know. But Standish Treadwell — who has different-coloured eyes, who can’t read, can’t write, Standish Treadwell isn’t bright — sees things differently than the rest of the “train-track thinkers.” So when Standish and his only friend and neighbour, Hector, make their way to the other side of the wall, they see what the Motherland has been hiding. And it’s big…
Maggot Moon won this year’s Costa Coffee Children’s book Award and is probably the one to beat when it comes to Carnegie. Incredibly original Maggot Moon tells the story of Standish Treadwell, a dyslexic boy, who struggles to read and write, and therefore everybody has decided that he is stupid. The book is set in a dystopian world, but in this case a historical one. The book has the feel of 1950’s Britain, but one that is a totalitarian state of the likes of Hitler’s Germany or Stalinist Russia. The country is now a satellite of the Motherland and every aspect of life is closely monitored.
I read this around the time that my daughter was taking the initial screening for dyslexia, which was both a good and a bad thing. It meant that I got distracted by that element of the storyline a little too much, but at the same time was incredibly reassuring. Sally Gardener, the author, is also severely dyslexic and this really shows in how Standish appears to feel about his difficulties with reading and writing. That a dyslexic author has written such an extraordinary book, a book that would be so extraordinary no matter who had written it, really does highlight that dyslexia has absolutely nothing to do with a lack of intelligence and that everybody really can achieve anything, as long as they put their minds to it.
It is probably the most heart wrenching book that I have read so far from the shortlist. I defy anybody to have completely dry eyes when they finish the book. The characters of the book are constantly watched; have to guard every word and action, this atmosphere of close oppression just serves to make the emotion feel all the more intense. This is not a book that gives you hope, but then it tells of a world where there is very little hope. It is because of this atmosphere that Standish’s voice is so important. Standish is different, because he thinks outside the box and this is not a regime that is tolerant of differences. That Standish has managed so far is testament to his grandfather. Their relationship highlights the positive side of human nature, in a book that concentrates so heavily on the negative. It highlights the good that people can do even when everything is against them.
The writing is just beautiful, whilst at the same time being brutal. The story is told in short chapters, giving the story a stop, start feel that just seems to highlight uncertainty present in the world in which it is set.
The short chapters make the book look like it is intended for younger readers, when it probably isn’t. It is a true crossover book in that adults will enjoy it too, but I wouldn’t give it to a child younger than secondary age, the content is quite dark and they wouldn’t necessarily understand some of the complexities of the plot. It is however a book that should be read, not for light hearted enjoyment, but just to experience the incredible writing.
Verdict: Beautifully written, if a little brutal at times, a book that just cries out to be read.
Reviewed by Alison