It may seem odd for a sci-fi novel, but Boy in the Tower is a book that oozes reality. If there is a story that warrants being described as dystopian then it it this one – it’s not always an easy read and emotional punches are far from pulled. They land heavy with a thud.
Polly Ho-Yen’s debut is, at times, a disturbingly grim portrayal of urban life and environmental decline. But there, in the reality, resides a remarkable honesty – the characters are real, the emotions are raw, the setting – literally – could be the estate where I work, and (like all great sci-fi) the unimaginable becomes oh-so-believable. War of the Worlds made people run to their cars and flee to the hills, believing an alien attack was underway. Boy in the Tower has that same sense of maybe, maybe one day…
Ade lives with his Mum half way up a high rise, somewhere in south London. His Mum never leaves the house, drifting in a depressed, fearful slumber. So far, so real – Ade could be any child in a thousand. Then, triffid-like, mysterious plants arrive. Nature, so often the victim, turns destroyer, consuming the windows, the doors, the road signs, devouring the metallic fabrics of urban life. At last, only one blocks stands and, for some reason, the plants go no further. For the moment, at least.
Boy in the Tower is a remarkable debut – dramatic, exciting and laden with profound messages about nature, urban life, friendship, family, sacrifice, bravery and love. Ho-Yen’s writes from Abe’s perspective and, for want of a more poetic phrase, it’s strength is that it is so credible – every word and sentence rings true, sounding and feeling like genuine words and thoughts of a child fighting to escape a desperate situation.
My only regret is that it took so long for this one to reach the top of my reading pile. I won’t make the same mistake with her second novel, Where Monsters Lie.