We found Polly Ho-Yen’s junior dystopia Boy in the Tower to be a very interesting read with most bookclub members finding the story to be engaging. We discussed the idea of exposing younger children to genre literature such as dystopia and science fiction and also mentioned the wonderful book A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay that does this so well.
Regardless of the setting we did agree with the publisher’s blurb that markets it as a story about friendship, courage and finding a way back home. We talked about the three distinctive parts of the novel; Before, which describes Ade’s life at home and school prior to the plants arrival; Now, stuck in the tower and After, life after they have moved. We did feel that part one was a good length and set up the scene, but felt that once the plants (the ‘blurchers’) arrived the narrative was too fast. Some felt the “science fiction’’ part of the novel could have been further explored. We wanted to know more about the reasons why the plants arrived and what caused the bacteria in the first place and the biology behind the plant’s existence. Even though this is a novel for younger readers we felt that what makes successful science fiction is world-building and that was lacking a little.
Nevertheless we found the character of Ade to be an outstanding representation of a child who has to deal with some incredible challenges whilst feeling alone and isolated. As the mystery unfolds we learn why Ade’s mum is suffering from agoraphobia (post-traumatic stress after a terrifying attack) and as the plants attack those who can’t escape, the poor, the disabled, the elderly are truly trapped.
This is an impressive debut novel with an honourable hero, a good balance of tension and excitement and we felt that it ended on an appropriate note of hope for this age group. It would best suit confident readers who enjoy reading about personal or survival challenges in unusual situations.