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Tony Plumb and the Moles of Ellodian Paperback – 2 Oct. 2018
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'It seems the cooler the name, the worse its been. A True Home for Children with Difficulties, more like A Truly Difficult Home for Children.'
Everybody seems to know who Tony Plumb is, even the boy at the bus stop, except Tony Plumb himself. Stuck in the care system since five years old, he knows his parents jumped off a waterfall, but it seems the deeper truth about why he’s there has been kept from him, and he’s never been found a real foster family.
Enter Ms. Bendy Leggett, a social worker who isn’t going to let the council waste away money politically correcting children’s fairytales (and one of my favourite quotes in the book), and who knows Tony’s situation requires more focused (and very expensive) attention. Tony is sent to Ellodian, an underground school of sorts, where the people and creatures that live and work there are delightfully odd, somewhat concerning, and willing to live by restrictive and isolating rules without question. Pretty much everyone is not what they seem. In fact, nothing is what it seems when you’re not above ground…
‘I guess you’re wondering if I can understand how it feels to be pushed out or excluded? If I can understand what it’s like to feel at the mercy of those in authority? I guess Daisy Bank didn’t help.’
‘Get lost’, said Tony quietly.
Mrs Heapey went on. ‘Maybe even worse than realising your parents were a couple and loved each other, is the prospect that they didn’t really want you.’
I loved this book. It’s brilliantly written - the prose is descriptive and interesting without being flowery, distracting or patronising, and the interwoven inner monologues by Tony and his “spy” serve as excellent tools of a boy’s conflicting emotional journey. There were so many touches that melded excellently into the story, and that my brain cottoned onto on the way rather than trying to second guess beforehand (for example the crash helmets), and I really loved the thought chariots and the mini boats - excellent uses of how the mind can work and proceed to heal (and protect) itself in confusing and overemotional times.
Tony Plumb and the Moles of Ellodian deals with a fairly dark and unsavoury matter of a boy trying to discover the cause of his parents’ deaths, in a way that (in my humble opinion) allows both younger readers and adults to comprehend how the unwinding of a distressed young mind may be realised, and the capacity for it to happen, both at the right pace and at the right time. Tony is highlighted as a bright boy by Bendy, but one who may just be lost in the system without the right help - and the right help is not only monetarily expensive, but mentally so.
The writing itself wasn’t overly dark, but the themes covered were – an important example (without spoiling) being two of Ellodian’s teachers, Mrs Sherbet and Prospect, and the characters of Bobbi and Perfax. They were all expertly examined and unwoven by the author as carefully as Tony himself. Indeed, one of the best features of the book is that Tony was just as ignorant as we were to his true predicament and the unravelling was done along with him, instead of waiting for him to catch up.
Where I thought perhaps the book was going into the standard strange fantasy world of weird mole creatures and a boy that goes adventuring, I was pleasantly surprised that there was a much deeper story to be told, and found myself far more invested than if it had been the former. I was devastated at finding out the secret of Tony’s childhood, and desperate for him to get all his answers, but it was important that not everything concludes precisely how our constant need for perfection might want. Truth is hard, as is the realisation you may never know certain things, and how you deal with it is what’s important. After all, it’s the journey and not the destination that ultimately counts.
J. M. Smith is a fantastic writer, and Tony Plumb and the Moles of Ellodian is essential reading for young or old readers alike, who prefer a good wallop of depth and intrigue in their grounded fantasy reading list.
I enjoyed the interactions between Tony and McGurney the parrot even more so later rather than earlier but I particularly enjoyed the Cubbages, a delightful family of moles that seemed to provide normality in what at times, for Tony at least, was chaos.
Perfax was appropriately disgusting and not at all endearing and the plot knitted together nicely around the exchanges between Perfax and his family enlightening the reader in respect of the yellow and green crash helmets.
Initially I found the first part of the book bewildering and confusing, I came to understand later it was a necessity and key to the story but at the time I re read some pages to try and clarify. The clarity slowly weaves throughout the story and ultimately we were presented with quite a curve ball, a surprise twist I did not see coming.
A thoroughly enjoyable read leaving you hoping for another book and I have recommended it to others, purchased copies as gifts and had equally positive feedback from my 13 year old nephew.
There are strong themes of mental health, family relationships, separation, loss, being from the care system, dealing with issues, self discovery, throughout this book. They are all written in a sensitive, tangible and realistic way. There is however some humour to be found within this book too, which really lifts it and adds to the life of the tale.
The story is complex, but not overly so, since it is well plotted. It would hit its target audience of 9-12 year olds who are good readers very well. It is age appropriate for this age group in the way the themes and language used are handled.
This book is firmly in the crossover market because it would suit any child from 9, teenager/YA and adult. It would easily suit people who enjoy either fantasy and/or tales that take you on a journey through life and of mental health. I would recommend for its target “crossover” audience.
We immediately meet Tony Plumb who is not just thirteen, but thirteen and a half years old to be precise. He is at Evensham Social Services to see Ms Bendy Legget (whose name I just love for its humour). We get to know that he was in a children’s care home in Daisy Bank. I like that there is no hanging around to meet the main protagonist and to get to begin to know and understand him. The story has instantly begun and starts at a good pace, which remains constant throughout the book.
Before long, Tony has entered the mysterious place of Ellodian. The story goes between this world and the world of the therapy he receives.
The thought processes of Tony and the moles are in a different font and style. This is an ingenious idea because it doesn’t detract from the narrative of the story and flows very smoothly. It also looks effective and fun on the pages, making the story easy to read and follow. We actually get to know that Tony has what he calls “thought chariots”. I love this description, already it depicts what is going on and gives a real insight into the state of his mind. It gave a sense of true feeling about what he was going through.
Enter the unique world of Ellodian
The mysterious, dark place of Ellodian is where Tony is sent to, with his parrot – McGurney. It’s an adventure like no other! As a reader I found myself being immersed into this world very easily. We meet new characters, more authoritative adults for Tony to contend with – Miss Frankly and Mrs Sherbet and Prospect . Again, I just love the humour of the names.
The entire world of Ellodian that readers are thrust into is well described and mysterious, with odd uniforms which makes you question: Who or What are The Moles?
As you read on, I am sure you too will find yourself totally immersed because you want to know more and you will discover the significance of the moles. This is a world that I found myself not being able to help myself wanting to know what more curiosities it had to offer.
Tony finds himself on a mission to discover the answers of 3 questions. These aren’t any ordinary questions. They are exploratory questions about himself. Let’s just say, not the types of questions you would normally be asked in everyday conversation. I think this just adds to the mystery of the main character of Tony Plumb and who he truly is as a person. The questions are effectively set out, easy to understand and moves the story onwards very well and is created in such a way that feeds into the curiosity of the imagination. It becomes even more thought-provoking. By this time, I had already invested in the main protagonist, so I needed to know if all the questions were answered, how and what the actual answers are and the truth of Tony Plumb. I also wanted to know by this stage, what Ellodian actually was.
I enjoyed meeting Mrs Heapy – a psychotherapist by profession. In amongst the talk about mole friends, there is a real emotion that comes through from Tony. It is sensitively and realistically written, when we learn a bit more about the relationship between him and his parents. Quickly, I was captured and I think even our younger readers will be too. Tony also at this point, becomes even more likeable than what he ever was to begin with. We begin to get much more of a sense of his life. This isn’t just an adventure/fantasy book with some character or other leading you through many paths. It’s more than that. The main protagonist is 3 dimensional with real issues, real emotions and is a character to invest fully into.
Perfax is an intriguing character with major issues, which we see quickly and get the understanding of his temperament. He is a character that, although comes very much later in the book, is so well written.
Evensham Social Worker Department is returned to in the book. It gives it some grounding and shows the depth of Tony. The story, as it goes between Evensham and the world of Ellodian is written in a way that any reader will be able to follow.
The book concludes very well, it left me satisfied and I am sure it will leave anyone else reading this well written, well paced book, feeling the same. All in all it is a thought-provoking story and the balance between the issues and the fantasy elements are well-balanced. There are also the most unexpected twists and turns that are written in an inspired way of creating more drama. This also develops the story further and adds to the intrigue into how the story can possibly end. I would say – take a chance on this debut child/YA/adult cross-over novelist and discover what is real and what is not in Tony Plumb’s life. Discover the world of Ellodian and allow yourself to be taken on a journey. You won’t be disappointed!