Toby Alone

Book review by
Kristen Breck, Common Sense Media
Toby Alone Book Poster Image
Offbeat eco-message tale weighs some complex, dark themes.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 2 reviews

A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

The allegory is obvious -- their world is fragile and faces destruction if not cared for properly, and so is ours. The suggestion that corporate and political interests come before the well-being of their communal home is also an allegorical idea worthy of discussion and examination.

Positive Messages

The allegory of the tree being alive and fragile is a good message for readers to examine. Sim as truth-teller and Toby as freedom fighter also portray messages of truth, bravery, and activism. Negative messages of greed, self-interest, and fear are clear.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Toby and Elisha are positive role models, as they are both brave and stand up for the right thing. They are loyal to each other and they take risks for those they love. Sim tells the truth because he thinks it's good for the community even though it's dangerous for his family. Maya was courageous when she left her greedy and rich mother to marry Sim, who was a low-branch boy. Most of the secondary characters are weak, cruel, selfish, brainless, and stereotypical.

Violence

Toby is the victim of a manhunt and will be killed if found. Bernie is a masochist and craves torturing and  hitting people over the head. Bernie herself gets beaten up such that she ends up in a body cast and must be fed with a feeding tube. A Grass Person gets eaten by a frog. The citizens throw food at Sim Lolness as he is giving a speech.  "Thing" is a sacrificial person used by Joe Mitch and his thugs to receive everyone's ridicule and abuse. Capital punishment is used in prison. Citizens are imprisoned for no reason.

Sex

Elisha is not ashamed to be naked and swims in front of Toby naked.  When Elisah is 12, grown men don't know whether she is a child or a "scantily clad young woman." Sim's friend Zef was a "charmer" and somehow lured wives away from their husbands. Mitch's men make inappropriate remarks to Elisha, such as "Can I kiss you while you're waiting?" and "I'll marry you if you find Toby for us."

Language

Frequent name-calling, such as "clot-head," "nincom poop," "big sissy," "dim-wit," "brat-face."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Joe Mitch would chew his cigarette, swallow it, burp it up, and relight it. One of the pursuers had alcohol breath. Walnut alcohol was very special and Sim had one drop per night. A grandfather drank too much and "after a few glasses he was kissing everyone's hands, including men's."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that while this adventure story looks appealing for younger kids (including map and illustrations), its messages are dark and unapologetic. Issues such as betrayal, cruelty, torture, greed, distrust, societal prejudices, and truth-hiding are clear, though not resolved in this installment. The main character, Toby, is running and fighting for his life throughout the entire book, which feels exhausting, and he meets a multitude of dismal characters.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byJennifer B August 8, 2017

Great adventure story!

Brilliant environmental allegory! My son (11) absolutely loved this book. It inspired some deep questions about humanity, political offerings...it really made... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old December 12, 2012

Amazing!!

An amazing story with lots of twists and turns throughout this book. a must read novel!
Teen, 15 years old Written bylmccormack August 3, 2014

Completely Appropriate

There is very little wrong with this book. If your child is reading it, and they understand it completely, then they should definitely read it.

What's the story?

Toby lives an idyllic miniature life in a tree (though he doesn't know it's a tree), and he has never been anywhere other than his home branch. All is great until Toby's scientist father makes a discovery that threatens their society's foundational beliefs and the way they live. He argues that the tree is alive, and unless they change thier habits, the tree will die. Neither the governing Council, the citizens, nor the developers like this news, and as a result, Toby and his parents are exiled to the "lower branches" -- a most undesirable place to live. Toby becomes a fugitive when he escapes and tries to free his parents. Along the way Toby runs from friends-turned-foe, finds giant holes in the tree used as work pits, meets strange people from other parts of the tree, discovers the slave-like camps owned by the evil developer Joe Mitch, and learns how to barely survive a world full of fear, hatred, and cruelty.

Is it any good?

Toby Alone is a wild, unending ride. The world of the Tree is well-imagined and described, complete with lakes, bark caves, lichen forests, as well as nefarious political and industrial characters. The illustrations are a nice addition, and the map inside the cover is enjoyable to scour. There are memorable pieces of wisdom, such as, "Fear is what makes you fall," "Beauty sometimes sneaks into the hardest of hearts," and "When you mourn somebody, you also mourn what they didn't give you." 

While the plot is fairly simple -- Toby's journey to find and set free his parents -- the twists and turns, myraid characters and motivations, and multiple flashbacks make for a complex and intricate tale. There are more mean and undesirable characters than there are inspirational ones, and this has the bizarre effect of making his world feel one-dimensional, especially since the bad guys are fairly stereotypical. Readers may feel ready for his journey to end long before it does. Hearty readers may enjoy the highly detailed saga but still wonder how the story could end so abruptly.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about mob or group mentality. Some of the characters in this book stop thinking for themselves and go along with the group, even when the group thinking is unfair or cruel. Why do you think this happnens? Is it easier to be an individual thinker or a group thinker? Can you think of characters in books, movies, or TV shows in which the main character stood up for thier own beliefs?  Was it hard for them?  What was the reaction to them?

  • Greed and fear are the heart of evil in this story.  What have you heard in current news that you could attribute to greed or fear?

  • Among other things, this story is an eco-allegory. How do you see its plot and message reflected in our own world? How does our media portray the state of our Earth and world? Why do you think there is controversy about it?

Book details

For kids who love going green

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