A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
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.
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
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 & Scariness
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.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
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."
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Frequent name-calling, such as "clot-head," "nincom poop," "big sissy," "dim-wit," "brat-face."
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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."
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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.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.