I LOVED 'Boy in the Tower' by Polly Ho-Yen, so much so that I've had Polly into school as a guest author a few times now (and highly recommend her!) and that I've used the book regularly as a class novel in my Year 6 class over the last few years. So I am thrilled to be able to write a review for this new book from Polly on its release day, and even more pleased to be able to say that, if anything, I think it's better than Boy In The Tower, too! I liked that it had similarities in plot and theme - a catastrophic event, the need to escape, isolation and danger closing in, but it looked at it from a different angle. Whereas Ade in 'Boy in the Tower' was trapped in one ever-more claustrophobic location as the Bluchers closed in, in this story, the main character, Billy, is on the run and trying to flee the evil 'Greys'.
Following the story of Billy, whose survivalist and 'prepper' mother has been training him for an apocalypytic event of some sort, we see the gradual realisation of her fears as a malevolent virus turns people around Billy and his friends into zombies, or 'Greys'. What follows is a story of hope, resilience and determination, and of love and the need for belief in family and friends.
Scary (and I mean really, heart-poundingly scary), exciting and dramatic, I loved the short, cliffhanger-ended chapters. This will make an amazing read aloud class novel, and it really was a page turner of a book - pacy, action-packed and gripping. Links to recent events in real-life (the Covid pandemic, isolation, lockdown, anxiety/mental health etc.) will be readily picked up on by readers, so it will be particularly relevant in terms of themes and content to many that read it, and may need to be read with some sensitivity as a result.
I also liked the inclusion throughout the book of extracts from the survival book that Sylvia (Billy's mum) had bestowed on him as 'the book that will save your life' and the inclusion of diagrams and instructions of how to use various pieces of survival equipment such as how to meausre the time using your hand and the sun, and how to start a fire using a split match, in illustrations by George Ermos.
I highly recommend this book and this author, and I'm thrilled to be able to host this guest content from Polly about her favourite character from the book here on whatiread today:
My favourite character in How I Saved the World in a Week
I’d already finished writing How I Saved the World in a Week when I saw what looked like my favourite character from that book walk down the street in front of me. He was a boy of about nine years old, walking in a gaggle with his younger sisters and mother. There was a spring to his step that suggested a kind of cheekiness, a backpack heavy in his shoulders. He had a look about him as though he had just figured something out about how the world worked.
Of course it wasn’t really him. You don’t need to worry that I’ve started to blur the stories that I make up in my head for the real world, whatever the coincidences that may appear between the two. It was just that this boy was so close to how I had imagined this character that it seemed almost eerie. (Just so you know, the character I’m referring to is Anwar in ‘How I Saved the World in a Week’. I have more than a soft spot for him.)
When I think of a character, it’s a mysterious process that feels hard to understand even though I’m the one doing it. I think who they might be and as though my brain is simple a Character Maker-Upper Machine, they appear to me. I sense them very clearly. I don’t often spend a long time writing notes about them but I do spend a lot of time, feeling my way in getting to know they.
I’ll make a mental list of endless things I might imagine about them. What’s on their bedside table, what they like eating, how do they sleep, where do they hold tension in their body. A big one though is how I might feel if I passed them on the street: how do they walk, what expression might be on their face, what energy do they give off to the world?
Seeing a boy who reminded me so much of my Anwar in ‘How I Saved the World in a Week’ makes me hopeful that my character might feel as real to a reader as Anwar does to me.
'How I Saved the World in a Week' is out today, the 8th July, from Simon and Schuster Children's Books. Follow them on Twitter as @simonkids_UK and @simonschusterUK
Find out more/buy the book via their website: www.simonandschuster.co.uk/books/How-I-Saved-the-World-in-a-Week/Polly-Ho-Yen/9781471193545
Polly Ho-Yen's website is pollyhoyen.com and you can follow her on Twitter as @bookhorse
Thanks to Louisa for the blog content and the advance copy of the book for review.
Review by Rich Simpson (@richreadalot) July 2021