Read as part of the Carnegie Medal shortlist 2013, ‘Maggot Moon’ is a teenage dystopian novel, where something akin to the purification of Nazism means Standish Treadwell is repressed beyond being able to speak freely, and lives under the constant threat of disappearing into the night, never to be seen again.
My initial thoughts were: ‘Kids will not keep up with this level of vaguery’. Sally Gardner doesn’t give much away about this world, but that’s part of this book’s brilliance, and with a little perseverance kids will keep up with this because you create your own world. Your Maggot Moon may be entirely different to mine, and so on and so forth, because Maggot Moon is subjective – how we read it determines what kind of repressions and setting we get to Standish Treadwell’s life. I think the instant reaction, and as I’ve already done, is to compare it to the ultimate attempt at racial purification, a.k.a. Nazism. But that’s not to say it doesn’t resonate with modern issues – what about cultures that disavow disabilities? Still cannot bear homosexuality? This is where Gardner’s book is successful – as a young adult read, it is hugely applicable to so many teenage issues, and shows that despite the devastating hardships we must sometimes face, the human spirit can prevail through the worst of times.
Likewise, by creating such an endearing character as Standish, Gardner makes the standard ‘everyman’ character feel valuable and worthwhile. In context, perhaps Standish can be seen as naive in his attempt to change the world with one small act, but isn’t that what huge events are made of? One man standing up for what is right, creating a snowball effect until the world moves with them? Look at Martin Luther King, look at the publicity surrounding Live Aid. Again, something small scale like ‘Maggot Moon’ can resonate on a larger scale, and Gardner does this so subtly that perhaps we don’t see it at first, but the horrifying climax to her novel is perhaps deliberately haunting in order to have this impact on the reader.
Even the aforementioned climax, despite its true horror, is shielded from us by happiness: Standish’s hope is eternal, which makes this novel eternally satisfying in consequence by its ability to shine a light through the darkest of times.
A real contender for the Carnegie Award 2013, Sally Gardner has created a world of maggots which shows how beautiful our own world could potentially be, if we have the means and hope to stand up for change.