Toby Lolness and his people live in a huge oak tree that they call home. On its branches they have built their cities and villages. Some of the tree people make their living by making leaf flour. Other’s harvest milk from tree grubs. But Toby’s father, Sim Lolness, is a renowned scientist who studies the Tree and the life in and around it. He is constantly coming up with ideas that other people don’t want to accept.
They don’t want to believe that the Tree that they live in is a plant just like the moss that grows on its branches. They ridicule Sim’s idea that there are other trees out there, and that the birds that visit the Tree probably visit them too.
But then Sim Lolness comes up with something that everyone wants. He invents a small black box that takes the power of Tree sap and turns it into movement, allowing him to turn Toby’s wooden toys into living creatures!
Before long a greedy tycoon named Joe Mitch hears of Sim Lolness’ invention and decides that it has possibilities for him. Joe Mitch is in the business of digging new homes in the tree’s branches using trained weevils. Sim Lolness has denounced this industry in the past, arguing that it is harmful to the Tree, but no one listened to him.
Now everyone wants him to tell the world the secret of his fantastic black box. They want to use it to harness the power of the tree’s sap and use it in their factories. But Sim Lolness refuses to tell the other tree people, saying that he doesn’t want them to bleed the Tree dry using its sap for other purposes.
Suddenly everyone hates the Lolness family, and they are exiled to the Lower Branches, a dark, damp place that no one likes. But Toby likes his new living place, and his new friend Elisha Lee, a daring young girl who lives with her family near the Border between the Tree and the Ground beyond.
When disaster strikes and Toby’s parents are taken captive by Joe Mitch and his cronies, Elisha Lee helps Toby to try to free them and save the Tree from being destroyed by greed.
I thoroughly enjoyed every part of “Toby Alone.” The tree world within its pages is like no other book landscape that I have ever read. The details that Timothée de Fombelle uses to describe its unique landscape make the stunning scenes of “Toby Alone” very vivid.
The plot of “Toby Alone” is slightly convoluted, with lots of flashbacks that break up the story flow. However, by the time the reader has made their way through the first fourth of the book the story begins to make much more sense. The focus of the plot is obvious aimed to reflect today’s growing concern over the environment of our own planet. Timothée de Fombelle makes references to a “hole in the layer of leaves” causing the Tree’s climate to warm up. It think this aspect of the story does a good job of examining the conflict concerning global warming.
The characters in “Toby Alone” are of mixed quality. On the one hand the evil characters such as Joe Mitch and his goons are so idiotic that the reader begins to wonder how these demented people ever managed to capture Toby’s parents. However, the two main characters, Toby and Elisha are very personable and carefully developed. Both are bold and daring, but their weaknesses are also apparent. This makes them seem even more realistic.
All considered, I recommend “Toby Alone” to all young readers. One further note: This book ends with a terrible cliffhanger that will leave readers clamoring for a second installment. I, for one, am definitely waiting for a sequel.
Inkweaver Book Rating: