Monday, June 14, 2021

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster


I'm doing a project where I'm rereading some of my favorite books from adolescence and seeing how they hold up. Some of them are adult books and some of them are children's books. My most recent addition to the project is the delightful middle grade fantasy novel, THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH. Including this book on the list might actually be cheating because I read it for the first time elementary school (and also watched the movie, which is supremely creepy in the way that only 1970s movies can be creepy, by which I mean it is basically like a bad acid trip).

THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH is about a boy named Milo who is depressed and jaded and doesn't really take joy in anything. One day, a present shows up in his apartment. It's a cardboard tollbooth. Having nothing better to do, he decides to try it and ends up transported to a very strange world where numbers come out of mines and words can be eaten and demons live in the land of Ignorance.

This is definitely a book for children but it's wonderfully clever and I think one of the things I love most about it is how many layers it has. Like ALICE IN WONDERLAND, Juster loves to play with words and meaning, and it's just so witty. Every time I read it, I pick up more references, and I think that's the mark of a perfect work of children's literature-- something that becomes additive over the years and gains, rather than loses, its value.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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