Sally Gardner

Maggot Moon

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Maggot Moon Summary

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Maggot Moon is a young adult science fiction novel by Sally Gardner. Published in 2013, the novel takes place in an alternate version of the 1950s, where Britain is under the rule of an oppressive regime. The main character, Standish Treadwell, is a teenager who, like Gardner herself, has severe dyslexia.

Due to his learning disabilities, Standish has difficulty in school. The other kids tease him because of his difficulty with reading and writing; he cannot even spell his own name correctly. However, Standish has a great imagination, a quality that is recognized by his close friends and one supportive teacher. Living under a ruthless government regime, Standish and his best friend, Hector, have invented an imaginary planet called Juniper where they can live happily and prosperously.

Gradually, it is revealed that in this alternate history, Britain is plagued by frequent disappearances. Standish’s parents have already been taken away, and so he lives with his grandfather, Gramps. In school, Standish learns about the government’s plans to land people on the moon, an event that is scheduled to happen very soon.

Standish is tormented by Mr. Gunnell, a sadistic teacher who abuses Standish for being dyslexic and schemes to get him in trouble with the headmaster. Hector used to look out for Standish, protecting him from bullies, but Hector has recently disappeared much as Standish’s parents did. Without Hector to protect him, Standish is an easy target not only for Mr. Gunnell, but also for the bullies in his class led by Hans Fielder.

One day, while fleeing from the bullies, Standish trespasses into an area that has been marked off limits by the government. Though he knows it is dangerous, he presses deeper into the restricted area, finding that it is home to a seemingly impenetrable fortress that he can see no way to enter. He also discovers a tunnel into the restricted area that his parents had been digging before they were arrested.

At school one day, Standish is confronted by the headmaster and a shadowy figure. The stranger questions Standish about whether he has ever trespassed in the area behind his house. Standish admits that he has; the stranger goes on to question him about what he has seen there. Standish manages to evade the stranger’s questioning for the time being, but the stranger orders Standish be expelled from school on the basis of his learning disabilities.

While walking back to class, Standish receives an urgent warning from one of the teachers, Miss Phillips, that he and Gramps are in danger. Standish and Gramps go on the run and manage to escape the police. In a flashback, Standish, at last, reveals what the stranger at his school had been trying to discover in his interrogation.

One day, while exploring the restricted area behind his house, Standish discovered an injured man in a spacesuit. He and Gramps nursed the man back to health and found that he was one of the astronauts slated to go to the moon. The astronaut revealed that the trip to the moon was a hoax, but during his training, he learned of a massive resistance movement dedicated to overthrowing the repressive government.

Gramps realizes that they need to smuggle the astronaut to safety so he can inform the resistance of what he knows. Miss Phillips joins forces with them to accomplish their goal. They make several attempts to contact the resistance using a transmitter provided by Miss Phillips but are at first unsuccessful. They know that the secret police are closing in, but evade them due to Gramps’s cunning and the fact that the secret police are counting on the small cell to lead them to the astronaut.

The astronaut reveals that he knows where Hector is being held a prisoner. While Gramps and Miss Phillips plan to escape with the astronaut to the resistance, Standish elects to stay behind to rescue his friend. He also begins to make a plan to reveal the moon landing is a hoax.

Standish sneaks into the labor camp where the fake moon set is being built. He finds Hector, who is ill and close to death. The two share final words before Hector passes on. Standish runs onto the set where the first images of the moon are being broadcast live to the world, revealing it to be a stage. At his act of bravery, the workers are inspired to rise up. Standish is shot in the struggle, and as he presumably dies, he imagines himself reunited with Hector, Gramps, and his parents on the utopic planet of Juniper.

Gardner has won several major awards and prizes for her young adult fiction. Maggot Moon was awarded the Carnegie Medal in 2013. A previous novel, I, Coriander, won the Nestlé Children’s Book Prize Golden Award in 2005.