Having set off from the Poacher’s Pocket with Lemony Snicket’s Bad Beginning and travelled along the Yellow Brick Road with Diana Wynne-Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle, I arrived at The Hundred Acre Wood where my prompt was to read a book with yellow on the cover.
The Boy in the Tower by Polly Ho-Yen
Amy at Golden Books Girl is a huge fan of this and I’ve been saying I’d read it for ages but never getting to it, so when this prompt came up it seemed the perfect time to actually read it!
That said, as timing goes it was either the best or worst time to read this, depending on your point of view (personally I quite liked the similarities). London has been over taken by Bluchers, plant-like creatures who are destroying the buildings and whose spores kill. No one knows how to deal with them and people are dying. Londoners are leaving their homes in droves as they are no longer able to risk going outside. It’s not exactly a terrifying premonition of what is happening today, but there’s certainly some wry parallels to be drawn.
One of the things I really liked about the book was its slow build up and scene setting. Rather than a dramatic beginning full of tumbling buildings and chaos, we see – again in an eerily familiar way – how the situation sort of crept up on people and caught them off guard and how even when it was underway there was a sense of ‘its probably coincidence’, ‘things will be fine’, ‘it won’t be us though’ before realisation sets in almost too late.
This gradual beginning also gave us chance to really get to know the characters, all of whom I thought were brilliantly written. Ho-Yen gives you just enough information to really form the characters for yourself.
I felt like I knew all of them despite very limited back stories for most, which takes some skilful writing in knowing just how much (and what) to give the reader.
The main character Ade (Add-ee) was incredibly likeable and I really liked his friendship with Gaia too; their quiet support and understanding of each other said so much more than an overly demonstrative friendship would have. This also really strengthens our understanding of both characters and endears them to us.
Alongside the main sci-fi style nature vs man story of the destructive Bluchers, there is the more human story of Ade’s mum.
Frightened by something, she slowly stopped leaving their apartment and gradually lost herself, taking to her bed more and more.
Before the Bluchers take over, we see Ade trying to understand and help his mum, looking after them both for the most part. And, so when everyone begins to pack up and leave and his mum is in bed unaware of what’s going on, Ade too must stay.
We see him trying to cope with and understand all that he sees unfolding – on the news and from his window – until the water and electricity go off and it gets harder and harder to see how the situation will be resolved without resorting to the ridiculous.
Then just as you lose hope, there’s a brilliant twist, just dropped in which not only adds a layer of intrigue but also opens up a world of hope again in a thoroughly believable way.
I thought this was such a well-executed, insightful book and Ade’s voice as narrator was pitched just right and very engaging. The tension and isolation brought by the Bluchers was tangible, and I felt for both Ade and his mum as they struggled with her mental health (I also thought the way we saw other characters’ reactions to this very telling and believable, in particular I thought their neighbour was brilliantly written.)
I have to be honest the ending didn’t do it for me but neither did it spoil my enjoyment of the book and I know younger and/or less cynical readers wouldn’t have a problem with it in the least!
Themes of family, friendship and mental health are cleverly woven into a gripping urban sci-fi that I’ll be recommending heavily when I return to work!