Just when it seems that there’s nothing new under the dystopian sun, Gardner (The Red Necklace) produces an original and unforgettable novel about a boy in a totalitarian society who risks everything in the name of friendship. Standish Treadwell narrates in short, fast-paced chapters, illustrated by theatrical designer/director Crouch with flipbook-style images of rats, flies, and maggots: creatures that represent the oppressive forces at work in the Motherland, a brutish government intent on being first to the moon, at whatever cost to its citizens. Fifteen-year-old Standish is dyslexic (as is the author), making him a target of bullies, which is the least of his problems. He lives with his resourceful grandfather in Zone Seven, but the Motherland has taken away his parents, as well as his best friend, Hector. The loss of his parents has created a hole Standish cannot fill; the disappearance of Hector leaves Standish unprotected at school and bereft of a friend who saw past Standish’s disability to recognize his intelligence. “I believe the best thing we have is our imagination,” Standish recalls Hector telling him, “and you have that in bucketloads.” Though Standish’s grandfather keeps the boy purposefully in the dark about many things, Standish figures out one of the government’s big secrets on his own, and he concocts a brave and personally risky plan to reveal it. Parts of the story are very hard to read—early on, a classmate is beaten to death by a teacher in the schoolyard—but the violence asks readers to consider what the world would be like if certain events in history had turned out differently. Gardner does a masterful job of portraying Standish’s dyslexia through the linguistic swerves of his narration, and although the ending is pure heartbreak, she leaves readers with a hopeful message about the power of one boy to stand up to evil. Ages 12–up. Agent: Catherine Clarke, Felicity Bryan Associates. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/17/2012 Release date: 02/12/2013 Genre: Children's
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