Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner {book review}

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In Sally Gardner’s stunning novel, set in a ruthless regime, an unlikely teenager risks all to expose the truth about a heralded moon landing.

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-colored 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 neighbor, Hector, make their way to the other side of the wall, they see what the Motherland has been hiding. And it’s big…One hundred very short chapters, told in an utterly original first-person voice, propel readers through a narrative that is by turns gripping and darkly humorous, bleak and chilling, tender and transporting.

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Set in a reimagined 1950s England with a ruthless regime that takes it roots from the Nazi Germany, ‘Maggot Moon’ weaves an emotional and heartbreaking story about an unlikely protagonist who must risk all to uncover the dark secrets of the society he lives in.

Standish lives with his grandfather in Zone 7, in a world ruled by violence, abuse and slavery. The beginning of the book paints the image of a disturbing school boy story, portraying diverse aspects such as dyslexia and bullying, along with authoritarian abuse and harsh teaching methods. As the story unfolds we are introduced to new characters, the most remarkable of all being Hector, Standish’s neighbor and only friend. It is once with this character’s appearance that Gardner starts delving into the plot of the book, revealing one mystery at a time until every piece of the puzzle fits together and creates an unexpected picture that’ll stay with you long after you finished the last page.

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While the plot is a strong aspect of this book, gripping and masterfully crafted, it is the characters that ultimately make this story such an unforgettable read. The bond that forms between Standish and Hector is heartwarming. It’s incredible how a tender friendship manages to bloom in a world so violent and it’s this high contrast between good and evil that makes their relationship even more touching.

He says nothing but I know he is listening. Words are the only medicine I have.
‘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. It doesn’t matter what happens now because I’ve found you. That’s why I’m here. Because of you. You who I love. My best friend. My brother.

Standish is an inspiring character, strong and driven. Despite all of the things life has thrown at him he never stops fighting for his beliefs, his friend, his family. My heart broke for him and for all the things he had to suffer at the hands of cruel people who couldn’t accept the idea of someone being different. He is a unique character, a bright spot of color in the sea of grey around him and I have no doubts that he will touch the deepest corners of your heart, just as he has touched mine.

There are train-track thinkers, then there’s you, Standish, a breeze in the park of imagination.

Another great character I couldn’t help but love was Standish’s grandfather. A proud, loving man who complemented our lead character perfectly.

He stood tall and proud, always told me he owned nothing but his dignity and he wasn’t about to give that away to no one. To no creed, to no church, to no dogma.

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The prose was beautiful, written in short sentences that managed to pack the exact amount of emotion needed to captivate the reader’s attention and make him root for the characters. As the story progresses you can’t help but hope alongside them, hope for a better tomorrow, for a better world in which they can finally have the happy ending they deserve. The author’s ability to make you empathize with the characters is astounding. This book is also an own voices since Sally Gardner herself has dyslexia.

Even though the world is dark and twisted, a world I wouldn’t wish anyone to live in, I couldn’t help but be captivated by Gardner’s vivid descriptions and powerful action scenes, by her fleshed-out characters bordering on real and her magical prose.

It had struck me that the world was full of holes, holes which you could fall into, never to be seen again. I couldn’t understand the difference between disappearance and death. Both seemed the same to me, both left holes. Holes in your heart holes in your life.

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‘Maggot Moon’ is an eye-opening read full of deep messages hiding between the lines, a book with a diverse cast of characters that speaks volumes about the value of friendship, of family and, above all, of human dignity. This book teaches you that it’s okay to be different, to stand for your beliefs, to dare to dream of better times. They will come.

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★ ★ ★ ★ ½

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