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Full Text Reviews:
Booklist - 01/01/2013 *Starred Review* The year is 1956. In an unnamed country of obvious allegorical weight, the totalitarian government of “the Motherland” keeps the “impure” in ghettos where they live off scraps and hope not to be dragged away to camps. Standish, 15, lives in Zone 7, a nasty place from which school is no respite—there cruel teachers beat students and, on this particular day, kill one. Standish is expelled in the aftermath, and the next step for him may be the camps. Standish, however, knows a secret. The Motherland is hyping a moon landing that will prove to the world that they reign supreme with interstellar weaponry. But it’s a fake: just across the park, accessible via a hidden tunnel, is a building that houses an artificial moon set. And one of the so-called astronauts has shown up in Standish’s cellar missing his tongue. Gardner snatches elements from across history to create something uniquely her own: a bleak, violent landscape of oppression, as well as the seeds of hope that sprout there, revealed in Standish’s tenacious, idiosyncratic voice over 100 short chapters. Crouch’s frequent sketches of flies, rats, and maggots seem unrelated at first, but they emerge as further metaphor for the taking. This is alt-history second; first, it is an eerie, commanding drama. - Copyright 2013 Booklist.
Bulletin for the Center... - 03/01/2013 As a lifelong resident of Zone Seven, fifteen-year-old Standish Treadwell is accustomed to a brutal existence of poverty, hunger, and abuse. He lost his parents to the tyrannical regime of the Motherland, and now it appears that he has also lost his best friend, Hector, who has mysteriously vanished in the night. Standish knows that it’s only a matter of time until those who took Hector come for Standish and his grandfather, both of whom are privy to the secret Hector discovered: the impending moon landing, the event that will make all other countries cower under the Motherland’s thumb, is fake, and there is evidence to prove it. Don’t be deceived by the short length or the presence of illustrations: this is a hellish vision of a dystopian world where food is a rare commodity and trust even more so. In brief but emotionally charged chapters, Standish offers a bleak picture of neighbors reporting on neighbors, teachers brutally beating students to death, and a despotic regime that looks eerily like Nazi Germany had the Axis powers succeeded. Standish’s tone switches with lightning speed from recklessly hopeful to violently despondent to casually aloof as he attempts to reclaim just a portion of what has been taken from him, and readers will be haunted by the sacrifice he ultimately makes long after they finish this quick read. The black and white illustrations of rats, flies, and maggots that populate the margins play out in a flip-book technique to reveal a horrific but powerful visual analogy to Standish’s plight. Ideal for spurring discussion in both book clubs and English classes, this could also easily be used in a history curriculum to imagine the “what if” scenarios of the past. KQG - Copyright 2013 The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.
School Library Journal - 03/01/2013 Gr 9 Up—In a grimly surreal alternate 1950s, 15-year-old Standish Treadwell leads a bleak life under a totalitarian government reminiscent of World War II Germany and Cold War Soviet Union. Struggling with an unspecified learning disability, he doesn't fit in-he dreams of a land of Croca-Colas and plans an imaginary mission to planet Juniper with his best friend, Hector-until Hector and his family are abruptly taken away because they know too much about the government's machinations. Standish's quirky first-person voice and fragmented storytelling gradually reveal that the government is intent on winning a propaganda-filled space race and will go to any length, including a massive hoax, to appear victorious. The story borders on allegory, and the setting is deliberately vague. It is implied that the details that led to this dystopian society are not important; the crucial point is that Standish becomes determined that he, an individual, can take action against a cruel and powerful regime. With brief chapters and short sentences, the prose appears deceptively simple, but the challenging subject matter makes for a highly cerebral reading experience. Stomach-churning illustrations of flies, rats, and maggots accompany the text, creating a parallel graphical narrative that emphasizes key moments in the plot. Though its harsh setting and brutal violence may not appeal to those seeking a happy ending, the story's Orwellian overtones will fuel much speculation and discussion among readers.—Allison Tran, Mission Viejo Library, CA - Copyright 2013 Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and/or School Library Journal used with permission.