15 March 2013

Review: Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner

'The what ifs are as boundless as the stars.'

"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 hs 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..."

First Line: "I'm wondering what if."

Maggot Moon is a staggeringly beautiful, hugely unique story. The story moved me and Sally Gardner's writing just filled me with wonder. It is simple and yet challenging, abrupt and yet soaring, beautiful and also incredibly cruel. It will make you angry at the atrocities humans are capable of whilst marvelling at what one person can achieve - be it our hero Standish in the story or Sally Gardner through her beautiful writing.

Why I read it: It was the first book I read from the Carnegie longlist as I had heard such good things about it.

Who I would recommend it to: I rarely say this, but anyone. I struggle to think of anyone who wouldn't find some merit in it. Men, women, boys, girls, teenagers, adults (maybe a little dark for younger readers), confident readers, slow readers.

Maggot Moon is the story of Standish Treadwell, who is dyslexic. Gardner herself is dyslexic and a testament to not letting that stand in the way of creating something beautiful. I was staggered by some of the passages in this book and their ability to move and inspire me. This, in particular, has become a favourite quote of mine;
      "I collect words - they are sweets in the mouth of sound."
The story is set in 1956 but has the feel of a post-apocalyptic world of a society has broken down. Standish's world is strongly reminiscent of Nazi Germany. Standish lives in Zone 7, where existence is brutal and cruel under the Motherland regime. Standish's school is corrupt and weak - there is a very powerful scene when a teacher beats a student that got stuck in my head for days. The story itself kicks off when Standish, his family and the family who lives next door, discover something they were not supposed to know. As always, I don't want to give away any of the story but it is carefully and uniquely plotted, dark and yet uplifting.

Gardner draws her characters wonderfully and heartbreakingly. Standish's grandfather is a particularly wonderful creation and I got goosebumps when he is described as having hands that can "make whole all that is broken." There are no female characters in this book aside from very minor characters. Standish's mother is discussed, and is important to the story and Standish's character, but is not an active character. I *think* that Gardner is aiming to give us a brutal and cruel stereotypical 'male' society, and then putting within that society loving relationships between male characters which make you question both the patriarchal nature of society and power but also that male relationships can be caring and tender and powerful. I think.

The story is written in 100 very short chapters. The chapters and the story are abrupt and brutal and contrast beautifully with the lyrical writing. Standish's voice transcends the flaws that society perceive him to have, just as his innocence and actions transcend the brutality of the regime, and just as Gardner's language transcends the cruelty of her story. This is a remarkable book and I think it is between this and Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick for the Carnegie title this year.

To finish, this is one of my favourite quotes from the book. I won't say who says it or to who so as not to spoil the story but it is beautiful;

     "You make sense of a world that is senseless. You gave me space boots so that I could walk on other planets. Without you, I'm lost. There's no left, no right. No tomorrow, only miles of yesterdays."


  1. As a secondary school librarian with a fantastic group of 19 Carnegie shadowers, I was fascinated to read this simply beautiful review. I read Maggot Moon a while ago & hadn't planned to re-read, but I will now!

    1. Thank you so much for the lovely comment!

  2. I've only read wonderful things about this book, I really must read it sooner rather than later!