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Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Review: The Boy in the Tower

Author: Polly Ho-Yen

Release date: This Hardback edition 3rd July 2014
Genre: Contemporary science-fiction for the younger reader/ sci-fi realism?
Target audience: 9+
UK Publisher: Random House| Doubleday

The Boy in the Tower is a story of friendship in a time of adversity. Set in modern day London, it’s about survival, hope and courage. This tale is dark in places but it is as equally moving and charming in places too.

Ade lives in a tower block on the seventeenth floor. He enjoys the view from his window and watching the tiny people on the street below. It’s a busy noisy street full of hustle and bustle. Across the street, in another tower block, lives his best friend, Gaia. They tell each other everything and Ade loves how much Gaia knows about plants and the world around them. Their lives begin to change when the Bluchers arrive. At first no one understands why buildings begin to suddenly crumble killing the people inside. And when the construction workers are sent to inspect them, they mysteriously die too.  Soon, all everyone can talk about is the Bluchers, dangerous plants who destroy everything. Time is running about for Ade and Gaia.

I enjoyed this book immensely. It had a wonderful lightness in the style of writing. Ade’s voice captured the innocence of a child’s viewpoint perfectly. He leaps off the page and I connected with him instantly. He’s heroic but not in a showy way. It’s a quiet sort of helpful-heroism.

The darkness in this story cannot be ignored. It deals with death, neglect and the impact of a violent crime. But the author managed to convey these issues in way that was neither condescending to the reader nor outright terrifying. Not an easy thing to achieve for the 9+ audience.

The bleak elements are lightened by the wonderful friendships the Ade makes in the time of crisis. Dory, one of Ade’s neighbours, and Obi, caretaker of the tower block, offer comfort and new skills to help Ade survive the siege of the plants. They give this book a special charm.

I found it hard to put this book into a specific genre. On the one hand, it is a contemporary story of friendship. It reads like realism and it deals with the issue of agoraphobia and the aftermath of a traumatic experience. It also confronts the issue of child neglect which caused a lump in my throat at various points in the story. On the other hand, this is a novel about plants which arrive from who-knows-where and begin to slowly annihilate the population around Blucher Road. So at times it reads like a children’s sci-fi/ dystopian read. This book certainly fills a gap in the market for those younger readers who are desperate to read Hunger Games-esque novels but are not at the maturity or reading level to access the content.

I wish there were more books like this for the middle grade market. Even the way the book is formatted is excellent. The words are nicely spaced out on the page and the chapter length is just right. The Boy in the Tower is a moving story. It makes you think about so many different things: childhood, where food comes from and loneliness and isolation. A book well worth reading.

Source: Borrowed from the school library

The paperback is released on January 29th.

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