Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Toby Alone by Timothée de Fombelle (Translated from French by Sarah Ardizzone)

As a new parent, I recently decided to start reading children's literature. One of the first books that I borrowed from the library was Toby Alone, a harsh tale about a small boy named Toby who is only one-and-a-half millimetres tall and lives in a tree.

Although advertised for young people, this book tackles many adult-themes. For instance, the subject of dictatorship is raised through the character of Joe Mitch, a very coarse, brutal and disagreeable man who connives to take control of the tree, which serves as the world for Toby's tiny race. The depletion of natural resources and climate change are also discussed through the actions of Joe Mitch's men, who are mining, carving and building in the tree at an unsustainable rate.

The plot of the story is quite interesting, even if it is a bit violent. The novel centres around the family of Toby, whose father is a great scientist. One day, Toby's father makes an incredible discovery, but fearful of how it could be used in the wrong hands, refuses to divulge its secret. In retaliation, the family is banned to the lower branches of the tree, far away from their family. The story revolves around the consequences of this exile, while Joe Mitch's men are rapidly destroying the tree.

As pure story-telling this book is excellent. The imagination required to write this story is quite impressive, as is the skillful combination of hard themes into a tale that children can understand. Nevertheless, I must admit that the level of violence in the novel disturbed me. The scenes of beatings, fighting, death and mentions of executions were unsettling. While I would recommend this book to my adult friends, I am not sure if I would feel comfortable giving it to my daughter before she turns into a mature teenager.

4 out of 5 starts