Review of Polly Ho-Yen’s Boy in The Tower

      Boy in The Tower

£6.99 Corgi For ages 9+

Shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Awards 2015 and the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize.

Longlisted for the Branford Boase Award 2015, and the Redbridge Children’s Book Award 2015.

Also nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal.

This middle grade story is framed with a foreword and afterword from a boy called Ade.  We are immediately introduced to the “bluchers”, which are strange plants, and the fact that Ade is an observer from his perfect viewing post: his  window from the top of his tower block. Ade’s voice is quickly established in the first person . We understand straight away that Gaia is a special friend, and his comments about what happened ‘Before’ forewarns you that something significant is going to happen.

The action starts in the ordinary, urban world, and is recounted in the past tense. At this stage I was thinking the story reminded me of one of Jacqueline Wilson’s stories: a child dealing with a challenging contemporary domestic situation. The familiar setting of school and home highlights the difficulties that Ade faces. His life is far from ideal with his Mum unable to leave the flat very often; but we learn that his neighbours are looking out for him.

As the story progresses, that sense of normality slowly crumbles away, especially when the buildings in Ade’s neighbourhood begin to fall. We learn the cause of Ade’s mum’s agoraphobia, and feel Ade’s sense of powerlessness. We see how resourceful he becomes in the face of adversity. We understand that Gaia helps him through all this. But before long anxiety in the community grows to the point where Ade is left to deal with his Mum alone. From Part 2 the story is told in the present tense, drawing us into the immediacy of the situation.

Polly Ho-Yen tells this story in a very simple, relaxed and pragmatic way. We see how Ade deals with this life changing situation through the detail of the mundane daily tasks and minutiae of practicality. For example, how Ade, Dory and Obi deal with toilet arrangements, drinking water and food when they are effectively trapped. (When I was a child I always got annoyed in stories that they glossed over these details!) The story unfolds in a relaxed manner reflecting the calm and stoic way that Ade deals with strange and stressful situations. Anchored to his flat by his mum who refuses to leave, he cannot escape, and therefore has to carry on regardless. In short, he has to drop childhood and take on the role of carer, and take care of himself.

As the danger to Ade grows, and the sinister nature of the bluchers becomes more scary,we see what he’s really made of. All the time we are wondering how on earth he is going to escape the inevitable doom unscathed. When Ade faces his most dangerous fate, we are terrified with him, knowing what an ordeal he has endured to survive to that point. The suspense is almost suffocating, and not only do we care about Ade and Mum, but also his new found friends who have helped each other.

But if you want to know the ending, you’ll just have to read it yourself!

This is above all a story about friendship, about resilience and loyalty. Old-fashioned values in a daunting world. I think you’d like this if you enjoyed Valentine Joe by Rebecca Stevens or The Last Wild by Piers Torday. This a perfect book for young people to read alone, but would also be an excellent choice to read aloud to Year 5 or 6.

   Polly Ho-Yen’s website

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