Today is my stop on the blog tour for ‘The Middler,’ the epic debut middle grade novel by Kirsty’s Applebaum. Make sure you read her exclusive piece about how her own childhood influenced her story.
Maggie lives a quiet, protected life in the self-isolated town of Fennis Wick. Her whole world for the eleven years of her life so far has been enclose day within the boundary wall of her town. The boundary wall built to protect the town’s inhabitants from the Quiet War and the wild and dangerous wanderers who roam in the woodlands and plains beyond.
In Fennis Wick, the ‘eldests’ are held up on pedestals above and beyond their younger siblings. This is because at the age of 14, all eldests are sent off to camp to train to fight in the Quiet War. Maggie is a lowly middler, worst luck. She has to run around all day doing chores, whilst her elder brother Jed seems to live his life in the lap of luxury – always getting the newest and best of everything.
However, Maggie’s world is about to be turned upside down by a chance encounter with a wanderer girl named Una. Everything she has been brought up to believe in is about to be pulled sharply into question. Why mustn’t she cross the boundary? Why do none of the elders ever return from camp?
Living in a dystopian world, Maggie begins to question the motives of those in authority and tentatively starts to push against the rules and physical boundaries imposed upon her. This is very timely in a world where it seems that perhaps some of its leaders can’t be trusted.
This story had me hooked right from the start. The simmering sibling rivalries, long summer days and bitter winters mixed with suspicion and a realisation that those in power can’t be trusted make for a heady mix. Kirsty has skilfully woven a tale where the tension and pace slowly ratchet up page after page, with an ending that will leave you breathless and begging for a sequel!
We’re now lucky enough to hear from Kirsty about how her own childhood shaped The Middler.
How my 1970s semi–rural childhood influenced The Middler.
The Middler tells the story of Maggie, a middle child living in an isolated community where only the eldest children are special. It’s the end of a long, hot summer, and Maggie and her brothers play outside in butterfly fields. Resources are scarce. Rooms are lit with solar-power, and food is home-grown. Some of the girls, grown tall over the holidays, have had extra tiers sewn onto the bottoms of their dresses.
When I re-read The Middler, it’s this setting that really leaps out. It’s straight from my own childhood. When I was very young I lived on a busy road in a large Essex town. Then in 1975, we moved to semi-rural Hampshire. It couldn’t have been more different. Quiet streets, butterfly fields, allotments – it’s Maggie’s world.
Soon after came the heatwave of 1976. The freedom that summer brought me, versus its incessant, oppressive heat, has undeniably shaped The Middler.
In the 1970s things were less plentiful. There were fewer shops, no internet, a more limited diet. Sometimes there was no electricity. Our mothers did indeed sew extra tiers onto the bottoms of our brownie dresses when we grew too tall. My time in the brownies contributed enormously to The Middler, influencing its songs and chants in particular. And during the 1970s there was a large self–sufficiency movement. My parents grew their own vegetables, just like Maggie’s dad.
My childhood has woven itself into The Middler. Had I stayed in Essex, or been born in another decade, I would have written a completely different book. My characters would eat different food, sing different songs, play in different places. And it excites me that we all have a unique childhood setting already within us – whether it’s happening now or long ago – that we can draw upon to create a rich story world.
Our childhoods really do shape us perhaps more than we realise. I often find myself saying or doing things that my own parents did when I was growing up. As an Eldest, I’m just grateful this wasn’t in Maggie’s world.
*Many thanks to all at Nosy Crown for sending me this brilliant title to read and organising the guest post from Kirsty*