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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 26 April 2014
A fantastic read that is almost impossible to put down - and I rarely did until I'd got to the end! With such short chapters it was too easy to just keep telling myself...just one more chapter! A real page turner, at times emotional, thought-provoking, shocking and upsetting, but a book I will definitely read again.
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on 1 September 2017
A bit pedestrian
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on 20 August 2013
Introduced in 1939, The Carnegie Medal is perhaps the most prestigious of children's/YA book awards, with any winner (or even shortlisted title) gaining a bank account buckling sales boost. The latest winner (2013) is Maggot Moon by Sally Gardener, a dystopian fable which follows dyslexic protagonist, Standish Tredwell.

Standish lives in a kind of alternate realty in which the `Motherland' has taken control of 1950's England. Surveillance, disappearances and capital punishment are the daily norm, and the rat-infested streets are virtually an inhabitable ruin. It's a pretty grim existence and Standish's dyslexia, fierce imagination, as well as his one blue and one brown eye, make him a prime target for the regime and it's hierarchy of violent bullies.

Fending off starvation thanks to a couple of hens and a meagre vegetable patch, Standish lives with his Gramps in a modest Zone 7 house not far from his brutish school. His parents have been taken by the regime, and he and his grandfather tread the fine line between surviving and subverting their totalitarian oppressors. However, a secret hidden below Standish's house could hold the key to toppling the Motherland. That, or certain death of course.

Maggot Moon is presented in one hundred concise chapters and the writing, particularly the use of metaphor, is stunning - one particular sentence describes Standish's beating heart as `an egg bumping against the side of a pan of boiling water'. Throughout the novel, Gardner's pros are deceptively simplistic and, in many ways, bear more than a passing resemblance to 2012's Carnegie winner, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.

In Standish's world, the only person he can call a friend him is newcomer to Zone 7, Hector. Even though the pair forge a strong bond, and friendship in the face of adversity is an important theme here, this is no fairy tale and the conclusion has serious emotional clout. A worthy winner indeed.
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Our narrator, the wonderfully named Standish Treadwell, is left bereft when his best friend Hector mysteriously disappears, probably taken by the tyrannical goons of the Motherland - a totalitarian regime where dyslexics like Standish are held in scant regard. The Motherland is intent on winning the space race, getting to the moon first without caring who gets hurts in the process. However, what if it was all one big ploy, designed to keep people in their place? What if someone like Standish, someone perceived to be weak, could debunk the whole scam?
As Standish himself remarks

"You see, the what ifs are as boundless as the stars."

Equally boundless, it would appear, is Sally Gardner's wonderful imagination and ability to draw the reader into another world, a parallel universe not that far removed from our own. Using simple language she presents a brutal world, a scary place where folk like Standish are not expected to stand up for themselves. Standish's neighbourhood, Zone Seven, could be anywhere, any time in history and whilst his day to day life is fraught with danger, he faces the same dilemnas as any teenager - establishing your own identity, forging friendships, learning from your mistakes.

Now shortlisted for the Costa Children's Book Award 2012, Maggot Moon deserves to become a children's classic. Fans of The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece and Wonder will love this quirky, engaging novel and will perhaps fall a little in love with Standish, your not so average hero. Highly recommended for all ages from 12 upwards.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 March 2013
I've been looking forward to this for ages and whipped through it in just a few hours.
Great dystopian story set in the 1950s, with overtones of Stalinist regimes but in England. Loved the little illustrations throughout at the start of each chapter, a lite story in themselves.
Very brutal in parts for the age range it's written for, but very appropriate to the context.
Standish was a good narrator, his malapropisms charming, his story compelling. Very sad ending but nothing you hadn't expected. Hope this wins more awards, CARNEGIE!!!!
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on 7 January 2013
This is the first book I have read in 2013, and boy has it raised the bar for whatever else I read this year. I think the blurb tells you pretty much all you need to know, so I won't summarise any further - it's one of those occasions where you want to tell people `I won't give too much away - just read it!'.
It's written in deceptively simple prose and in that sense, it's easy to read. I rattled through it because I wanted to find out what happened to Standish and Hector. But at some point I am going to have to go back and reread it to truly appreciate the fine craftsmanship of the writing. On another level, it doesn't make for easy reading because of the truly awful things going on in the Motherland - particularly when you realise with unease that similar things have indeed happened in human history. And are happening still. Sally Gardner is known for her `unique blend of magic and historical realism', and in this case there is the inkling that you might be reading a re-imagined history. It's all the more powerful because the world doesn't feel like some distant dystopia - it all seems very close to home. You really get a sense of the precariousness of the characters' situation, and though they are two very different books, I would compare the emotional response I got from reading Maggot Moon to what I experienced when I read Markus Zusak's The Book Thief. It's both heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful, because it illustrates the eternal presence of friendship, courage and hope in even the most dire of circumstances.
I instantly warmed to the narrator, Standish Treadwill, and his voice is one of those that echoes in your mind long after the story ends. He's someone who doesn't do well at school and is underestimated because of this, when in fact he possesses a singular intelligence and originality - a dangerous trait in an oppressive state where conformity to the norm and received thinking is tantamount to survival.
I love it when pictorial elements are included in fiction (if it's done well), and the doodles scattered through the pages really enhanced the reading experience by subtly echoing the story arc. That, along with the layout and the short chapters, tied in really well with Standish's character, as someone who can't read and interprets the world in more visual terms. So not only is it a good story - it's also a beautifully created book, and I'm very pleased that I got the hardcover edition, because I think this one is a classic to be treasured and shared with friends for years to come.
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on 19 February 2014
Like much great art we begin this story confused. It grates at times in the early chapters, it irritates and frustrates but there is poetry here and something deeply, deeply important. Simple prose, carefully juxtaposed, which slowly but surely brings us awake to the most terrifying of worlds. It emerges like the hulks of buildings in a city wreathed in fog and it's a dark fog full of the nastiest moments inhumanity can offer us. Standish Treadwell is our hero's name - the book's written from his limited and poetic first person point of view (PoV) and he lives in some totalitarian society not a million miles from Nazi Germany. He is a fifteen year old boy who has known nothing but tyranny. It oozes from him, as does his neuroses and his post-traumatic stress. Such a poor, benighted creature. But there is hope here too. A beating, red, blood-filled heart of it thudding in Standish's chest.

Standish's parents have been 'disappeared'. He lives with his grandfather - Gramps - in a run down tenement in Zone 7. He goes to school in a place where the teachers sometimes pummel the kids to death and where the propaganda of the Motherland (we're kept guessing if this is Soviet or Nazi tyranny throughout the book) is the only curriculum. This book is extraordinary, living under totalitarian rule via the words of a 15 year old who has known nothing else.

Think the boy in the stripped pyjamas with a swirl of 1984 mixed in too and then think those narratives with most of the big words sucked out. Standish's vocabulary is necessarily limited, because of his upbringing in a state that doesn't want its people to know a great deal and wants them to think even less, so he's relative inarticulate. This is part of the book's genius, you see, because poor Standish doesn't know lots of words for the horrors he sees, which makes his descriptions even more compelling through their awkwardness. Painfully and carefully he picks his way through his experience, sharing with us his anger at suppression, his trauma at the loss of his parents and his best friend. In many ways he is an immature boy, who still wants and needs to play, mainly, because he's clearly seen too much too soon to warp the natural arc of his development.

Standish is courageous and angry and our honest and true guide. Layer on layer of simple sentences and chapters begins to add up to something, a working understanding of tyranny at the granular level. The raging hunger, the cold, the glowering hatred, the living fear, the de-personification, the zeroing of individuality in pursuit of the will to power of the Motherland. And through the peep-holes provided to us by Standish's poor articulacy we get to build a sense of what and when and how. This land of horrors where physical abuse and torture is a daily occurrence, where people disappear for Orwellian thought-crime, is an alternative reality version of England. It's 1956, perhaps the Nazi won the war in this reality and have invaded, perhaps it's the Russians, it doesn't really matter. This is a John Grayian Universe, as described in The Silence of Animals, Naples in 1943. Humans descending into barbarism.

Sally Gardner's conceit, of telling the story of tyranny from the inside out in the voice of a child is pure genius. We experience the impact of mutated innocence, Standish wants to play with his friend Hector, to build spaceships made from cardboard boxes in the loft and to fly away together to Planet Juniper. He retreats from the horrors of the everyday, as all children would, by scuttling into his imagination but he can never stay there long enough to satiate his instinctive need to play because he has to pop out again to fight hard to survive. Finding food is tricky, avoiding the police or the bullies or the teachers at school or the neighbours in his own tenement who will rat on those misbehaving to get themselves in better favour with their oppressors.

Such a clever book, so beautifully and sparingly told. It is a transformative piece of literature, presenting for us our must bestial actions through the most innocent of eyes. As the poetic beat of his single voice builds, the dawning horror of the enormity of this tyranny makes us feel small. But Standish is courageous and in his small body he carries the best instincts of humanity. He makes a stand, echoed perhaps in his odd name.

This book needs to be on the curriculum in every Year 7 classroom in the country, history, literature, poetry and humanity woven into every sentence. A thought-provoking book, images and descriptions and a tenderness I return to again and again since finishing it. I listened to the Audio book version which actually made it even more real, testimony from Standish, beamed live into my brain.

Another rare five stars (*****)
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on 15 September 2013
"Standish, wake up, you fricking, daydreaming bastard! Wake up! Wake up or you'll be dead like me."

In Standish Treadwell's world, when people go missing, you don't call the police. You stay quiet. You pretend they never existed. You hope no one notices you because if they do, you're next.

Opening this novel I was expecting a pre-teen adventure story. Instead I was thrust into a society ruled by propaganda, brutality and betrayal. A place where survival was the only thing you could strive for and most would sacrifice their neighbours to achieve it.

Here lives our protagonist, `Standish Treadwell. Can't read, can't write. Standish Treadwell isn't bright.' Standish Treadwell is dyslexic, and accustomed to abuse in school. He lives in a street filled with the ghosts of those who have vanished. Only he and his grandfather remain, and they are being watched. They converse in whispers and never mention their secret. A secret that could topple the Motherland.

Sally Gardener's haunting, vicious dystopian novel is an incredible addition to Young Adult Fiction; it exhibits a masterful use of suspense and stands alone within the multitude of books I've read this year.
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on 24 October 2014
Sometimes, you pick up a book expecting it to be a fun, easy read. Sometimes, you couldn’t be more wrong. When I picked up Maggot Moon, I knew little about it except that Sally Gardner was its author. Because I absolutely adore her books, I didn’t feel the need to know more. Maggot Moon was everything but a fun, easy read, but that doesn’t make it any less great.

The story is set in 1956 in a dystopian world reminiscent of Nazi-Germany and Russia under Stalin’s reign. The Motherland is obsessed with space travel and wants to place missiles on the moon so that it can wipe out its enemies. Maggot Moon tells the story of a boy called Standish. He and his grandfather, whom he calls Gramps, live in Zone Seven, where you either learn how to adapt or die. Because Standish has two different coloured eyes, he is considered impure, and the fact that he can’t read or write despite being fifteen doesn’t help. He is bullied by students and teachers alike, until he makes a new friend, Hector. Hector is brave, strong and smart. Hector dares to do what no-one dares. He even dares to collect their soccer ball from the wasteland behind the wall, which is strictly forbidden. What he sees there will change their lives forever.

Maggot Moon has a different writing style than the ones I’m used to, which took me a little while to get into. It has exactly one hundred chapters, none of them longer than three or four pages. The sentences are short, reflecting the bleakness of the world Standish lives in. As soon as you get used to this, you can really get into the story, which is grim, heart-breaking and inspiring at the same time. Standish really grew on me and I wanted him to succeed with all my heart: I wanted him to go to the land of Croca-Cola’s (not a typing error) and Cadillacs, I wanted him to go to space. He is such a great character with such a unique voice, you cannot help loving him.

I found Maggot Moon to be an interesting read. It had an original, at times brutal plot chockfull with well-rounded characters and a loveable narrator. It is not a long novel and you can easily finish it in a day, but the story will stay with you for quite a while longer. This is a novel that I think almost everyone will enjoy, especially if you like dystopian-future novels but want something different than Divergent and the Hunger Games. Do read!
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on 27 May 2014
This is a very unusual story - gripping and compulsive - of a fifteen year old outsider in a totalitarian state run on violence and fear. Although no names are named, it's clear that the story is set in the 1950s with the race to the moon, as well as the references to "I Love Lucy" and is the answer to one of those historical "what if?" questions.

The narrator of the story, Standish Treadwell, who is blessed with different coloured-eyes and has difficulties with reading and writing, is a wonderful creation. His quirky turns of phrase and way of seeing the world drew me in and kept me turning the pages. Gramps is an equally engaging character, but I did wonder what had happened to his wife (although in a regime like this one, maybe we'd rather not know.)

The questions and issues the book raises are important ones and I can imagine this being a useful book for the curriculum from a certain age - which I'd put at 13 or 14 plus. I have a sneaky feeling that this book may well be something more for mature, thoughtful teenagers who are already well-read and adults than for "encouraging teens to read". My son read it (or said he did) when he'd just turned 13 and described it as "being about a couple of boys who build a spaceship". I suspect he skimmed through it, was pleasantly grossed-out by the rat and maggots, then went off to find something funnier, lighter and less demanding.

I'd would recommend it with a proviso - it is bleak, it is disturbing, but it's also important - and requires a certain level of maturity.
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