“At one end of our road were the grand, rooster-breasted houses where the good Families for Purity lived. They looked smart enough, but they were only stuck together with the glue of dead men’s bones.”
Before you read any further, you should probably know that Maggot Moon is one of those rare novels that you are better off knowing nothing about before you start. If you already think you want to read it, spare yourself any spoiling, and go get it now. If you still need some convincing, carry on.
Fifteen year old Standish Treadwell ekes out a quiet existence at the bottom of his class. He can’t read or write, but he manages to go largely unnoticed, despite the fact that he lives in a society where those who are deemed faulty or impure simply seem to disappear. Standish keeps his mismatched eyes downcast, and tries to be invisible. But his best friend and protector, Hector, has disappeared, and with his parents gone, Standish has only his grandfather to watch out for him. The Motherland is a dangerous place to be unusual, and Standish and his family have unknowingly been treading perilously close to state secrets. His learning has been stunted, and his vocabulary is idiosyncratic, but after spending so long trying not to be noticed, events force Standish to consider whether he can continue to allow his voice to be silenced.
Dyslexic herself, Sally Gardner has created a wonderfully relatable dyslexic protagonist. Perhaps the best known dyslexic protagonist is Percy Jackson, but Percy’s dyslexia is actually a sign that he is a demi-god, and his brain is meant to read Greek. Standish is truly dyslexic, and this fact doesn’t hide a secret gift, but is a talent in and of itself. This shows up in his colourfully idiosyncratic narration and wild imagination. It also informs his character; because he can’t read or write, he watches and listens carefully, and these qualities are essential to the decisions he makes about how to survive under the boot of the Motherland. This novel clearly answers the call for diversity in YA.
With short chapters and accompanying illustrations, Maggot Moon impels the reader inevitably forward, despite the grim horror of Gardner’s world. Standish lives in the 1950s, but exactly where, and under exactly what regime is left deliberately vague. Beginning in the middle before going back to the beginning, Standish reveals the slow accumulation of daily atrocities that eventually bring him to the breaking point. Rats, poison, maggots, and flies permeate the accompanying images, underscoring the darkness of this tale. Maggot Moon is an eerie classic dystopian novel much more in the style of Nineteen Eighty Four than more contemporary offerings such as The Hunger Games.
If you liked Maggot Moon, you might also enjoy The Wall by William Sutcliffe.