Toby’s world is under greater threat than ever before. A giant crater has been dug right into the center of the Tree, moss and lichen have invaded the branches, and one tyrant controls it all. Leo Blue, once Toby’s best friend, is holding Toby’s beloved Elisha prisoner, hunting the Grass People with merciless force, and inflicting a life of poverty and fear on the Tree People. But after several years among the Grass People, Toby has returned to fight back. And this time he’s not alone: a resistance is forming. In the much-anticipated sequel to the award-winningToby Alone, the compelling eco-adventure reaches its gripping conclusion.
François Place has illustrated many books and is also a renowned author in his native France.
Sarah Ardizzone won the Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation forToby Alone. She lives in London.
When I first saw the description of “Toby and the Secrets of the Tree” by Timothee de Fombelle, I was intrigued. Based purely on the book-cover, it looked like a children’s book. When I noticed the length, I realized it must be young-adult (YA) as it was too long to be a simple chapter-book. Being a fan of the occasional YA series, I decided to give it a try. One of the things that made it unique among the other YA books I’ve read recently is the fact that the author is French. So of course the book was written in French and the one I received (from Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program) was in English, translated by Sarah Ardizzone.
My overall impression of the book was positive. I enjoyed the story and I was drawn in to the characters once I really got going. However, I did have some difficulty getting ‘into’ the book, initially. My largest obstacle was the lack of context. Since this book is the second in a series, I will give the benefit of the doubt in assuming that I could have easily followed along had I read the first book. (Toby Alone) Since I was starting the series from book two, however, I was a little lost at first.
The beginning of the book seems to have little to do with the rest, not really setting the scene or getting you involved in the main characters for quite a while. The first character you are introduced to is inconsequential and forgettable. A while later when you meet Elisha, you don’t really have any clue who she is or why she’s held prisoner, or why she’s in an egg, for that matter. I think part of my confusion also came from wondering just ‘what’ these people (?) were.
My only source of comparison comes from Brian Jacques books, where animals go on adventures and have their own little world. (although humans don’t appear to exist in his universe) But with those books I always got a brief introduction to the universe and characters who inhabited it.
Another issue I had was the slowness of the beginning of the book. Nothing seemed to really happen for quite a while. There were descriptions of the scenery and some action, but nothing seemed to progress for the first quarter of the book or so.
So those were my stumbling blocks.
Once I got past the first portion of the book, however, the story started to take off. I became more acquainted with the characters and finally figured out that the people of the Tree were more or less tiny humans. While the lack of background story remained confusing throughout the book, the characters were compelling enough that I was able to settle in and immerse myself in the world of the Tree.
As a YA book, this novel does a good job at being imaginative enough and adult enough to be inviting. I didn’t find any condescension or dumbing down as I often find in other young-adult novels, so that was a major positive. I would happily give this to my children when they hit their pre-teens, although I would highly recommend that they read “Toby Alone” first.
Overall, Toby and the Secrets of the Tree (I really don’t get the point of that title, by the way.) was a good book, enjoyable, and a change of pace for me. I would recommend it to others, with the caveat that it would be good to start with the first book if they want a better understanding of the strange world and its inhabitants.
Sarah Ardizzone did a wonderful job in translation. There were no awkward points in the book due to language barriers and such. I might have to get the book in French sometime to see if I notice any difference, but I’m not really up to the challenge at the moment. (not to mention that my French is more than a little rusty)
I’d commend this book to anyone who enjoys those of Brian Jacques, or even lovers of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s “Le Petit Prince”.
Overall, I’d give the book three and a half stars.
~3.5 stars out of 5~