A Review of Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner
Hot Key Books, 2012
by REBECCA, March 20, 2013
Standish: Standish Treadwell can’t spell his name but, according to his best (and only) friend, he is “a breeze in the park of imagination” (4).
Hector: smart, handsome, and confident, Hector protects Standish and stands up to bully teachers.
Gramps: Standish’s grandfather, he has cared for Standish since his parents “disappeared” years before.
The back of the book told me very little about plot, characters, anything really. It was tantalizing, suggestive. I picked a copy up at Waterstones when Tessa and I were in Edinburgh the other week and, mostly, I was just taken by the awesome cover and the intriguing title. Here’s what the cover of my copy says: “What if the football hadn’t gone over the wall? What if Hector had never gone looking for it? What if he hadn’t kept the dark secret to himself? What if . . . ? Then I suppose I would be telling myself another story. You see, the what ifs are as boundless as the stars,” which is the entire text of chapter one (the book is made up of 100 short chapters and sparsely illustrated).
Here’s the thing about Sally Gardner’s amazing Maggot Moon. That brief passage actually is the plot of the book (yeah, I know; why else would it be on the back of the book) and I’m so freaking glad that I didn’t know anything else about it going in. So, I’m not going to tell you much about the plot either. And even though the plot is awesome, it’s really not the star of the book. That would be characters.
Standish Treadwell is dyslexic (although that’s not the book’s term; it’s Gardner’s, who is a longtime spokesperson), which causes his teachers and peers to think he’s stupid and pick on him. Standish has a unique and resonant perspective. We see the world through his eyes, and goddamn if his isn’t one of the most beautiful voices I’ve read in YA lit. When Hector and his parents move in next door to Standish and Gramps, they become fast friends. Hector is everything Standish isn’t: good at school, confident, and admired. Together, he and Standish carve out a tiny space for themselves—a fantasy world where
“we were driving round in one of those huge, ice-cream coloured Cadillacs. I could almost smell the weather. Bright blue, sky blue, leather seats blue. Hector in the back. Me with my arm resting on the chrome of the wound-down window, my hand on the wheel, driving us home for Croca-Colas in a shiny kitchen with a checked tablecloth and a garden that looks as if the grass was Hoovered” (6).
(Croca-Cola is just one of several Standish-isms.) When the story begins, Hector has recently disappeared and Standish is at loose ends, daydreaming about Cadillacs during school and trying to figure out where his friend has been taken. And, more importantly, why.
Maggot Moon begins with all the hallmarks of realist fiction, but it is shot through with resonances of the darkness running just below the surface of the schoolroom and Zone 7. This is a dystopia in the literary sense of the word. And it is glorious. The plot of Maggot Moon just keeps getting more and more interesting as the short and lyrical chapters fly by, building to a satisfying and gutting climax and conclusion (that I won’t tell you anything about)!
Maggot Moon won the Costa Children’s Book Award for 2012, and well-deserved, I say. I want to give it the award for . . . um . . . well, I guess the Costa award will have to do. E-books aren’t something of which I’m much enamored—mostly because they haven’t utilized their technology well—but the e-book for Maggot Moon is an interactive, multi-touch ibook, which Gardner hopes will give readers some insight into the experience of dyslexia. It’s pretty awesome, as you can see here. Maggot Moon has been my introduction to Sally Gardner, and I cannot wait to get my grubby little paws on more.
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (2004).
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (2008).