Maggot Moon: Mark’s Take


No, I didn’t care much for Maggot Moon either.  I had similar feelings to you, so I won’t belabor it too much, but here are a few thoughts:

I’m pretty sure the waving flag “error” was a nod towards a long-held piece of the conspiracy theory about the “faking” of the Apollo 11 moon landing.  NASA was aware that there would be no wind to keep the flag from hanging loosely, so they attached a crossbar to the top edge, so it would stand out and look picturesque.  The conspiracy theorists, not realizing this, claim that the pictures on the moon show the flag “clearly” blowing in the wind.

But that parallel with real life actually points to one of my major problems with the book: I don’t understand why Gardner felt the need to fictionalize the story so much. I mean, it is pretty obvious (to me at least) that the setting is Soviet-era Russia (Motherland vs. the land of Croca-Colas and all that), with a slight bit of alternate-history added, but why couldn’t Gardner just come out and say that?  Why did so many little details have to be changed?  Why not just say the evil leader was Krushchev?  The reason I ask, is that if she had set the book in the real world Soviet Union, it would have gone a long way towards alleviating your (and my) biggest criticism: the fact that, as you said, “There really weren’t any grey areas.”  Giving the book a real world setting would have allowed the “bad guys” to have all the freight of the Soviets, who (despite Cold War-era propaganda to the contrary) were not black-and-white, evil-to-the-core bad guys.  At the same time, fictionalizing the Soviets has the effect of making everything much less precise than it could be, in terms of who and how the apparatus of the state works.

I too didn’t think much of the dyslexia angle, and frankly, I didn’t find it particularly well-written either. I was annoyed by a lot of the imagery and figurative language:

  • “in another country where the buildings don’t stop rising until they pin the clouds to the sky. Where the sun shines in Technicolor” (p. 5) — that Technicolor bit is an especially overused phrase.
  • “My bones nearly jumped free from my muscles when I heard a noise in the back garden” (p. 179) — kind of seems like a new way of saying something, but ultimately yields a fairly prosaic cliche.
  • “Never would I have thought that the hard-boiled Miss Phillips had such a soft, sweet center” (p. 20) — bit of a mixed-metaphor that.

I don’t mean to be unrelentingly negative here (I’ll leave that to Gardner ;)–there were aspects of the book I liked, and I did find myself sucked into the narrative by the end.  But it has enough defenders, and mainly I just want to make clear why it won’t be making our Mock Printz list in the Fall.

– Mark



Filed under Books, Teens

4 responses to “Maggot Moon: Mark’s Take

  1. Sarah Flowers

    By the way, did you ever see this video from a filmmaker explaining why a moon landing hoax was impossible: because the movie technology to fake it didn’t exist.

  2. Sharon Grover

    Interesting thoughts from both of you. I, along with the kids and teachers in the Book Club Formerly Known as Printz, liked it quite a bit more than either of you.

    We had pretty in depth discussion about the setting and came to the conclusion that it was England around the time of the real Apollo 11 moon landing, but one where the Third Reich had won WWII, hence the many Nazi-like references and the referrals to the Motherland. Our feelings that it was set in England may have been influenced by the fact that two of us read it with our ears and the narrator is British, but there was never any doubt in our minds that it was Western Europe, if not Britain.

    The kids (and the teachers, who are pretty young) had no idea about the moon landing hoax conspiracy theory, although I remember it quite well. The kids were fascinated that there really had been people who questioned the moon landing and liked how it became part of this story.

    We all liked the interaction between the characters and the way Gardner unfolded the events, horrific as they were. I was unsure about why Standish needed to dyslexic, but the kids — and the teachers — appreciated that, saying they knew kids like that and were glad to see him portrayed as brave and exceptional despite his disability. And, although Standish is younger than the teens in our book group, they felt the situations made it interesting to them as well as to somewhat younger readers. (They liked Wonder last year, too, but we ultimately decided we were SUPPOSED to like it. No one felt that way about Maggot Moon. I would also argue that Maggot Moon’s lowest audience is middle school, while Wonder is easily accessible to fifth and even some fourth graders.)

    Is it Printz-worthy? Perhaps not. We’re still reading for quality (the kids feel they don’t need to single out books that will get wide readership with their recommendation), but we’re not as obsessed with literary excellence as we were last year. It’s certainly a very discussable book that obviously has some teen appeal.

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