I ended up finishing all of my planned reads for April with two days left in the month. Rather than start in on May's goals, I thought I might grab a shorter novel off my shelf and squeeze one extra book into the month. I grabbed Sally Gardner's Maggot Moon, knowing that I could finish it quickly. I was also hoping that it would somehow match up with one of my remaining Popsugar Challenge categories (which are becoming increasingly harder to find books for). To my surprise, not only did this novel satisfy the "book with an unreliable narrator" category, it was one of the most engrossing and moving young adult novels I have ever read.“I’m wondering what if.
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.”
This novel is set in an alternative dystopian future, in which people that the government considers to be "impure" have all been relocated to Zone Seven, a poverty-stricken area where paranoia, violence, and terror pervade the atmosphere. Our narrator is Standish Treadwell, a young boy with a severe learning disability. At first, his narration concerns his personal struggles. He is bullied constantly, struggles to make friends, and lives a lonely life with his grandfather after his parents are forced to flee the government. As the story progresses, however, Standish's narration begins to convey a wider story about the oppressive regime he lives under.
When a new family is relocated to the house next door to him, Standish makes fast friends with a boy his age named Hector. His games of make believe with Hector give Standish a sense of fulfillment and joy that he has rarely experienced. However, his happiness is short lived. Hector stumbles onto a secret that he won't share, and that secret leads to him and his family being removed from the neighborhood. Determined to save the only friend he's ever had, Standish embarks on a plan to get Hector back and help take down the government of the Motherland.
What makes this novel truly remarkable is Standish's narration. His learning disability affects his ability to tell the story properly, and his tendency to skip around in time and drift in and out of fantasy makes it difficult for the reader to tell what's really happening and what is just a figment of his imagination. The whole story is a puzzle, and it's left for readers to determine all of the basics, like what country Standish lives in, who runs the oppressive government, and what is happening to all of these people who are disappearing. The events of the novel read like a horrifying folk tale, and sorting out what's actually going on is necessary to understanding the book. Maggot Moon is not set in a made-up world. It's set in ours. It's our job to put together the clues from Standish's unadorned and confusing narration to figure it all out.
Alongside the text are a series of illustrations which convey a short story of their own. The pictures concern the life cycle of a fly and a rat. The rat accidentally poisons itself and dies. A fly lays eggs on the rat's body, which eventually hatch into a pile of wriggling maggots. By the end of the story, one of the maggots has turned into a fly and flies away. Placed alongside Standish's story, it could symbolize anything from the futility of life to the birth of new possibilities. This secondary story adds an excellent additional layer of complexity to the text.
Maggot Moon won the Costa Book Award in 2012, the Carnegie Medal in 2013, and was a Printz Award Nominee in 2014, which shows that I'm not the only one deeply impressed with this book. I have a strong affinity for young adult novels that make you think, and this is one of the best I've read. Originally, I picked this novel up thinking it would be a quick read that I could stick in my classroom library afterward. It ended up being a new favorite that is staying in my personal collection. It's so nice to find such a gem when you really aren't expecting it.
Popsugar Challenge: (a book with an unreliable narrator) 28/40
TBR Challenge: (previously owned) 25/60
Total Books Read in 2017: 31