Monday, June 23, 2014


Sally Gardner's Maggot Moon might have gotten on my reading radar without being a Printz Honor because I absolutely loved her I, Coriander of more than a few years ago. I also listened to The Red Necklace but wasn't as enchanted by it (or more accurately not as enchanted by the reader). Maggot Moon is completely different from these books, and for something that clocks in at under four hours, there is a lot going on. I think this is the sign of a very skilled writer.

We don't learn until well into the book that it is 1956. England, called the Motherland, is a totalitarian society that seems heavily influenced by the Soviet Union, or perhaps Nazi Germany (an arm salute is often demanded). Fifteen-year-old Standish Treadwell lives with his grandfather in Zone 7. His parents vanished several years ago for defying the government and now Standish goes to a substandard school where threats and intimidation are on the curriculum. To make matters worse, Standish is dyslexic and can't read or write, not to mention those unmatched eyes. The Motherland does not like "impurities."

One day a boy named Hector moves into the house next door and he and Standish bond over football (soccer). Hector's parents have been exiled to Zone 7 for infractions that Standish doesn't understand but that his savvy and resourceful grandfather does. Something very mysterious is going on on the other side of a high wall that backs onto Standish's house, so when Hector uses the hidden underground tunnel that connects Standish's basement to inside that wall to recover their football, a horrifying series of events is triggered. Not to mention the man who stumbles into the basement missing his tongue. This man looks like the picture of one of the astronauts who have just rocketed into space to make the first moon landing. A moon landing that the Motherland has been trumpeting as a symbol of its supremacy.

Standish is the only person who can tell the truth. But is he brave enough to try?

Standish narrates the novel and it's written in a jumpy and disjointed style that perhaps tries to replicate the world as a dyslexic person would view it (quick changes of time [past and present] and very short chapters). He transposes some letters (Plant Juniper) and adapts words (Croca-Colas). I'm not sure if I could have stuck with it in print, but I was able to (mostly) follow what was going on. It's a powerful book, but it's a definite downer. While Standish takes a stand, and his one act is a meaningful one, I'm not sure anything will change in the Motherland (unlike, say, Katniss Everdeen).

A young narrator (and actor), Robert Madge, reads the novel. The Maggot Moon website linked above has a video of him at work. I think he was just 16 when he recorded the book, and even though he's got a lot of experience as a child actor, he is quite astonishingly good. He has a very pleasant reading voice, youthful but not childish. His pacing is spot on with lots of variation in delivery and tension-filled pauses. There's a lot of appropriate emotion as well -- Standish's loneliness, his fear and how he draws on courage he didn't know he had are all vividly expressed in Madge's narration.

There's nicely evocative, slightly sci-fi-ish music (it kind of echoes that initial whistle of Doctor Who) that opens and closes each disc.

The publishers created an extra-special ebook for Maggot Moon, a "multi-touch iBook," where -- among other things (including audio excerpts) -- you can see what a page might look to a dyslexic.

[Standish compares himself to David (vis a vis Goliath) on several occasions in the text. Here's the most famous (?) statue in the world, residing in the Accademia Gallery. The photo was posted by Tektraktys and was retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.]

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner
Narrated by Robert Madge
Candlewick on Brilliance Audio, 2013. 3:40

1 comment:

proseandkahn said...

I just reread this one with my ears this a week ago. It absolutely gutted me the first time around and did so again. I agree, the narrator was spectacular. I don't know why producers don't hire more kids to narrate. Sometimes it annoys me when adults do kids.