by Sally Gardner; illus. by Julian Crouch
Middle School, High School Candlewick 281 pp.
2/13 978-0-7636-6553-1 $16.99
e-book ed. 978-0-7636-6573-9 $16.99
Gardner (I, Coriander, rev. 8/05) here imagines an alternate, dystopic UK: a repressive 1950s regime that calls itself the Motherland, abhors “impurities,” is led by a man with a bad haircut, and consigns undesirables to the derelict housing of Zone Seven. That’s where fifteen-year-old Standish Treadwell and his Gramps survive, thanks to Gramps’s ingenuity at reusing and bartering. Out of this life of hard-won subsistence and oppressive schooling, Standish tells the story of his friendship with “supernova bright” Hector next door — Hector, who realizes that dyslexic Standish may not have a train-track mind, but has imagination “in bucketloads.” When Hector and his parents disappear, taken by the authorities, Standish sets out to rescue and avenge him, and uncovers a grotesque government hoax. Standish’s tale has the terse, energetic tension of poetry; his phrases and sentences roll out with irony, tenderness, horror, or love, but always vividly. “The place smelled of over-boiled cabbage, cigarettes, and corruption,” he notes of his school; or, “What he was doing there I hadn’t a snowflake of an idea.” Even the chronology of Standish’s story depends on a rearrangement of order, where present, past, and future stand side by side. Most appealing of all, however, is Standish Treadwell himself: tender, incisive, brave, and determined, he takes a stand and treads well. Frequent pencil illustrations that function almost as a flipbook underscore the story’s subtext of the unending cycle of violence and death.