Friday, May 24, 2013

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner, illustrated by Julian Crouch

I took Maggot Moon with me to read on a long boring trip and I don't think the time ever flew by like it did this time.  To say that I was pulled into this 1950s dystopian England and the story of the severely dyslexic Standish Treadwell, 15, is an understatement.  I was mesmerized.

England is ruled by the cruel, totalitarian Nazi-like regime called the Motherland.  The country is zoned and Zone Seven is pretty much the end of the line, a place to put those who need to be punished.  Standish lives there with his grandfather now that his parents have simply disappeared, gone to the 'maggot farm' (killed) as far as Standish is concerned.  His father was headmaster at his school and was against Motherland's rule but basically tried to maintain a neutral stance.  His mother, a teacher at his school, was more rebellious and refused to toe the Motherland's line.

The school in Zone Seven is not a place you want to draw attention to yourself.  But Standish does, he can't help it: he was born with one blue eye and one brown eye and is extremely dyslexic, and since he can't read or write, he is the brunt of cruel, violent bullying by students and teachers at school.  His only escape from all this is his imagination.

But all that changes for Standish when Hector Lush and his parents arrive in Zone Seven and start living in Standish's parent's old house.  The two boys soon become best friends, and when Hector stands up to the teachers who delighted in bullying Standish, Standish is finally left alone by everyone.

After Standish tells Hector about his imaginary planet Juniper, the boys make plans for a space trip there, even building a papier-maché spacecraft for this mission.  At the same time, Motherland is making plans to send a spaceship to the moon with three astronauts, to declare the moon a Motherland territory and solidify its place as the military leader of the world.

Things are going as well as they can in Zone Seven until one day, Hector and his family disappear.  Of course, life at school goes back to being pretty lousy for Standish.  And soon he discovers that his Gramps isn't who he thought he was - Gramps has some important secrets.  But Standish has a few secrets of his own, as well - and one of them is that he know something about the Motherland's moon landing that could bring the whole regime down in front of the entire world.

So Standish makes a plan...

Maggot Moon is quite simply an edgy, dystopian novel but one of the best I have read in a long time.  It is narrated in the first person by Standish, who has a refreshingly powerful, honest voice.  In a short novel with short chapters, Standish's is a compelling story about repression, friendship, rebellion and conspiracy.  Being deemed stupid at school because of dyslexia does give Standish a certain kind of freedom to experience and explore his inner and outer world, which a actually how his discovers the secret of the moon landing.

The rule of the Motherland has been compared to that of the Nazis.  And it does indeed have similarities.  The wall surrounding Zone Seven is very much like the ghettos the Nazis built to contain Jews before they too disappeared and were never heard from again.  The Soldier/police, called Greenflies, resemble the SS and the man in the trench coat who tails Standish throughout is very much like a Gestapo agent.  And of course, the desire of the Motherland for world supremacy resembles Hitler's wish for his Fatherland to dominate the world.  And yet, despite these similarities, Maggot Mood has a fresh, inventive feel all its own.

The black and white illustrations of maggots, rats and other vermin in the corners of the pages throughout the book, all done by Julian Crouch add to the bleak starkness of Standish's world.

This book is recommended for readers 14+
This book was borrowed from a friend

A downloadable discussion guide for Maggot Moon is available from Candlewick Press

This is book 3 of my 2013 YA/MG Fantasy Reading Challenge hosted by The Book Cellar
This is book 1 of my 2013 2013 Dystopian Reading Challenge hosted by Book of Erisred


  1. Sounds like you loved it as much as I did, Alex. Wonder if it'll win our Carnegie award in a few weeks' time?

    1. Yes, I did love it as much as you. I read about it on your blog first, actually, and borrowed it from a friend when they told me thay had it, otherwise I would have bought based on what you said. I hope it wind the Carnegie, too.

  2. That sounds fantastic! It's interesting how simple illustrations even in books for teens and older can really help set the tone of a book. Thanks for the recommendation.

    1. It is a fantastic, though disturbing, story but well worth reading, I think. The illusstrations do set the tone in this one, for sure.

  3. Sounds perfect for fans of The Hunger Games like my two older kids!

    1. I loved The Hunger Games and if your older kids read that, they should like this - they have the same kind of themes.


Imagination Designs