A brilliant ‘high-concept’ story that manages to make the laws of physics accessible to a middle grade reader. This is a book that can be enjoyed an infinite number of times.
Nominated for the 2019 CILIP Carnegie Medal
Shortlisted for the Leeds Book Awards 2019
It’s Maisie’s birthday and she’s excited. If she’s lucky, her present from her parents might be the things she needs to build her own nuclear reactor. (She’s assured them this is a safe and entirely suitable present for an “academically gifted” ten year old). Maisie’s also excited about being ten – after all, the Greek philosopher Pythagoras (the man who basically invented maths) said that the number ten contained the key to understanding everything. However, when she heads downstairs, she finds her house is empty. And when she opens the front door she discovers things are a whole lot worse – there is nothing outside. No car parked in the driveway. No driveway. No street. No houses. Nothing at all. Just an empty black space that goes on forever.
There is a lot of talk about the importance of ‘high-concept’ ideas in children’s books and The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day is about as high-concept as it gets. Our heroine, Maisie, is trapped in an ever-shifting reality where infinite darkness is slowly wiping away everything she knows. To survive she must master her fear and use her knowledge of the laws of the universe to make sense of this mind-bending mystery.
And, if that’s not ambitious enough, author – Christopher Edge – sets himself two other seemingly herculean tasks. First, explaining Maisie’s comprehensive understanding of the laws of physics in a way that is accessible to a middle grade reader. Then, secondly, telling the story from Maisie’s viewpoint in two different realities in alternate chapters (with no headings or clues to warn the readers about this approach).
The potential opportunities for this to go wrong are probably as infinite as Maisie’s lives. However, it works brilliantly. Granted it took me a few chapters to get used to the switching viewpoints but I was quickly gripped by the story and the puzzling twist of events.
Maisie is an easy character to identify with and the matter of fact way she describes her lack of friends (as a result of the fact she is home educated) ensures we immediately warm to her. The narrative viewpoint – the story is told in Maisie’s voice (in both realities) and in the present tense – also helps us to feel close to her.
The plot is well structured and the ending is so perfect it left me nodding with satisfaction. Indeed, I immediately flipped back to the start and began to read all over again. Just reading the short chapter 0 a second time having finished the book, instantly revealed how truly clever the plot is – all the clues to the ending set up in these opening lines. This is, I suspect, a book that I will revisit again and again.
As a physical object this book is also very special. You can check out the striking cover by Matt Saunders but you need to open the book to see how this design is carried through on every page with the same motif at the start of each chapter. Beautiful.
If you enjoyed this, perhaps you’ll be joining me to check out Christopher Edge’s other novels. I have already added The Many Worlds of Albie Bright and The James Drake Equation to my reading pile.
Publication date: April 2018
Publisher: Nosy Crow
Website: Christopher Edge