My 9-Year-Old is Reading: Toby Alone
By Timothee de Fombelle
When you’re 13 and you’re half a millimeter tall, when your parents get jailed by a tyrant looking for a scientific secret and all the people you know are chasing you including your friends, what do you do?
You run and you run hard.
This middle-grade-bordering-on-young-adult novel has all the traits of a French classic – a dark environmentalist fable whose hero is small in size but big in courage and who gets to fight a totalitarian establishment set in the world of an oak tree – alone.
Interweaving big concepts with a thriller-type manhunt, this book will delight fans of dystopian literature looking for something different. Like most heroes, Toby is hardly prepared for his ordeal. At the beginning of the first chapter he’s your average tween boy and his family was happy until now. At the end of the chapter, his parents are banished in a cage and he’s the only target of a fierce manhunt in the world he lives – the branch of a tree. Heading to the Lower Branches to find shelter, constantly on the run as new predators appear in each new habitat, Toby’s flight is a desperate quest for peace and justice.
When I read this book a few years ago in French (French title, Tobie Lolness), I loved its complexity and the tree world it was set in so I saved it until my girls could read it. My soon-to-be 10-years old is now old enough – I think – to pick up the story of Toby who runs for his life, Toby who discovers there’s a world outside his own, Toby whose scientist dad discovered a secret that can topple the regime.
Warning: the book includes violence and disturbing scenes. Only reserve for older readers. Despite the warning, I still love the book and my 9-year old was very taken by it and finished it in three days. I should note, because it matters, that the book is printed on sustainable paper with vegetable inks. The message is about preserving our environment and the medium is true to the content.
Toby Alone is part one of a two-book series, the second book being Toby and the Secrets of the Tree.