The Midnight Gang

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Midnight Gang Book Poster Image
Zany, poignant tale of kids stuck in a London hospital.

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Kids say

age 8+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The opera classic "Nessun Dorma" plays a role in one big scene. One interlude will have kids getting familiar with Indian food menus, especially poppadom. Tom's awful boarding school has the motto "Nec quererer si etiam in tormentis": "Never complain, even if you are in great pain."

Positive Messages

Strong messages of kindness, friendship, and working together to overcome the people and things that make you miserable. Also kindness, empathy, not judging people by appearance.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The abused but kind and wise Porter is the star here, determined to do anything he can to make the kids stuck in the hospital feel better. Over course of book, Tom and other kids share adventures, develop a lot of empathy and mutual understanding, help each other out -- even if most of the solutions are definitely of the kids-don't-try-this-at-home variety. Some adults are inept, others deliberately cruel -- but others turn out to be getting a bad rap, as they're being manipulated by the villains just to be mean. One peripheral character smokes and drips cigarette ash everywhere.

Violence & Scariness

Story opens with kid being terrified by lopsidedly deformed face of adult who will soon prove to be the hero. Starting with being cooped up in a creepy hospital where no one comes to visit you, violence is unreal and cartoonish, but definitely there. And often druggy, as kids' best defense against awful Matron is to stuff candy they know she'll eat with a kid's sleeping pills. One kid and adult pal con hospital pharmacist into giving them a large syringe full of sedative, then inject Matron's butt with it. Matron is verbally abusive, finding vulnerable spots, using them to crush kids into submission. She forces a boy to wear a frilly pink nightdress. Nurse clouts doctor on ear. North Pole episode takes place in hospital's walk-in freezer. In flashback, an adult doses other adults with laughing gas so they'll laugh at a kid's unfunny jokes. An adult lands in hospital after stapling his own fingers. Adult character recalls a kid in the hospital dying many years ago.

Language

Plentiful humor (and illustrations) around butts, pee, poop, farts, bathrooms, underwear, snot, drool, etc. A chapter is even named "Poop! Poop! and Double Poop!" Also gross food. One mishap involves an old lady flying through the air naked after her nightgown catches on a steeple (no illustration).

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Midnight Gang is a wild, Dahl-esque tale of a 12-year-old boy who lands in a London hospital following a cricket mishap and soon gets sucked into wild, authority-defying, joy-inducing adventures. Author David Walliams and illustrator Tony Ross' storytelling involves a good deal of crude and gross-out humor (to say nothing of artificial leg gags). Still more alarming, the kids drug the cruel Matron by repurposing one kid's sleeping pills, and one of them injects her in the butt with a strong sedative. All of which definitely calls for a heads-up. However, the story is packed with effective messages about kindness, empathy, creative problem-solving, friendship, not judging by appearances,  and above all not letting bad people drag you down to their level. Also it's pretty funny.

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Teen, 13 years old Written byCounterLynx April 27, 2020

Inspiring Friendship

A good not to challenging book to read. You can read it over and over and still not get bored of it.

What's the story?

As THE MIDNIGHT GANG opens, 12-year-old Tom Charpers regains consciousness only to be terrified by a misshapen face peering into his and assuring him that everything's going to be all right. Turns out young Tom has been hit on the head with a cricket ball at his posh but horrible school, and now finds himself stuck in the children's ward at Lord Funt Hospital, an ancient and creaky London institution. Already in the ward are Amber (smart, snarky, both arms and both legs in casts), Robin (eyes bandaged due to recent surgery), George (pudgy cockney lad recovering from tonsil surgery), and Sally (who's a lot sicker than the rest of them, has lost all her hair, and spends a lot of time sleeping). In charge of it all is an outwardly beautiful, inwardly vicious Matron who delights in making them as miserable as she can.  But as long as anyone can remember, the Midnight Gang has been subverting her rule with wild, secret nighttime antics and making kids happy. And the Porter (the ugly face who first terrified Tom) turns out to be a big part of it.

Is it any good?

British author David Walliams is in top form with this imaginative, poignant, often crude, and frequently hilarious tale of kids stuck in a London hospital. Some of the antics -- drugging oppressive adults and having secret expeditions to walk-in freezers -- are definitely not suited to real life. But it's a heartstring-tugging, thought-provoking tale with unforgettable characters, relatable issues, and a determination to do better than the bad people in your life.

"'That lady has darkness in her heart. She enjoys making the children in her care suffer.'

"'Why?' asked Tom.

"'Matron loves being cruel. It must make her feel powerful. This is why she made you wear that nightdress.'

"I hate her,' said the boy through gritted teeth.

'"Don't. That must be what she wants. If you hate her, she's won. And your heart will turn dark too. I know it's hard, but please try not to let her get to you.'

"'I'll try.'

"'Good,' said the Porter."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about stories like The Midnight Gang that involve kids in hospitals. Have you read any others? Were the stories scary, or funny, or inspiring?

  • Do you know any people who seem to be really, really good at saying the meanest, most upsetting thing possible to people? Why do you think they act this way? How do you deal with them?

  • The Porter has been shunned his whole life because of his physical deformities, and no one but the kids get to know the real person. Do you know people who say mean things or treat others badly because of the way they look? What happens?

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