BOOK REVIEW: Me, All Alone, at the End of the World by M.T. Anderson, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell
A boy lives alone at the End of the World, hunting for treasure with maps, whistling dance to his mule, listening to the rain and thunder from the shelter of his cozy shack. It’s a peaceful life, and the boy is content.
Until… loud and long-leggedy Constantine Shimmer appears and declares, “Things are going to change around here!” True to his word, Mr. Shimmer brings flashing lights, spellbinding shows, thrilling rides, exciting games, and every other sort of extravagorganza to the End of the World. In other words, fun all the time, FUN without END!
M.T. Anderson is, I believe, most well known for his novel Feed, a young adult, dystopian sci-fi, and this knowledge, when coupled with the title of this book and its blurb, might suggest some kind of post-apocalyptic story book, but upon looking at the cover, and upon reading the story within, you’re sure to be caught up in this story of a young boy living at the end of the world atop a cliff.
The story that unfolds is that of this boy who lives a simple and happy existence, until such time as a man comes along who criticizes how empty the boy’s days are, and who has plans to turn the clifftop into a place of endless amusement.
“Here,” said Shimmer, “is the End of the World. Here is the cliff. Here is a lonely local boy with his mule. Notice their misty-eyed look. And here is the future site of the Inn at the End of the World.”
The boy makes friends and gets caught up in some of these new activities. It’s true, he does have a good time.
“Fun chock-a-block to your eyes and your teeth! Loneliness, ladies and lads? Gone, all gone at the Shimmer Inn Wintertime Ski and Skating Extravagorganza!”
But as he starts to grow weary of the constant activity, the text and the images both show how his world is changing around him, the images becoming somewhat garish and incredibly unnatural when the boy reaches a point of over-stimulation.
I hadn’t slept for seven days. There now was a Ferris wheel over the gulf; there now was a towering tower; there now were some fireworks blasting the clouds, and statues that talked and that walked in the park.
Over the noise I yelled to my friends. “You know – I’ve been thinking…”
“There’s no time for thinking!” cried Shimmer from his podium as the lights in his beard flashed and whirled.
And the boy seeks out a new place that’s his and only his.
The book was first published 12 years ago, and yet there are elements of this book that might make readers think of Pinocchio and various works by Enid Blyton, with the vibrant, full-page images in a style that is gorgeous, but not seen so very often these days, some of the phrases used, and the fact that the boy’s friend Minnie Bucket is never just “Minnie”.
“What do you do around here?” they asked.
I thought of what I did: fossils, sunsets. “Um,” I said. Whistling. The gristle. The bristly pines. “Er…” I tried to think of something that might be exciting. “Well, if you spit off the edge of the earth, the spit gob goes forever,” I said.
“Wow,” said Bert, and “Zowie!” said Juke, and Minnie Bucket cried, “This is electric!”
But the messages here are, if anything, more important today than they were twelve years ago. There are many talking about the fact that this is an argument for solitude and space to think, and that is definitely true. But this is also an exploration of the beauty that is in the natural world, which doesn’t need to be “developed” and built upon, because there are plenty of wonders to be found, if one will just sit quietly for long enough and observe.
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