Review: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

The Phantom Tollbooth

From Random House: For Milo, everything’s a bore. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room, he drives through only because he’s got nothing better to do. But on the other side, things seem different. Milo visits the Island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping), learns about time from a ticking watchdog named Tock, and even embarks on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason! Somewhere along the way, Milo realizes something astonishing. Life is far from dull. In fact, it’s exciting beyond his wildest dreams.

One dull day a mysterious tollbooth arrives in Milo’s living room. Bored, as he always is, and thinking the tollbooth will help him while away some time, he gets in his little electric car and drives through the tollbooth…and into the Kingdom of Wisdom. There he encounters a watchdog named Tock who actually ticks, an argumentative Humbug, and a slew of other memorable characters like a boy who grows down and a Mathemagician. But the kingdoms aren’t what they used to be and pretty soon Milo finds himself on a mission to rescue the princesses Rhyme and Reason, and return them to their rightful homes.

I actually bought this book years ago in the height of my Harry Potter fangirl days when I read an interview with Emma Watson that said The Phantom Tollbooth was her favourite book.  I had never heard of the book at the time but if Miss Watson loved it, then I had to read it. But then it just sat on my shelf. Lately, I’ve been trying to read some of those neglected books and The Phantom Tollbooth went right to the top of my list.

I started out really enjoying this book. It is extremely clever, and wordsmiths young and old will find puns and allegories galore to chuckle at. It is very inventive. The only book I can think to compare it to is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with it’s peculiar characters, nonsensical world, and witticisms.

But about halfway through, all the characters’ and place eccentricities started to wear on me. It felt like the author was trying to show off, trying to include every possible wordplay he could think of. It became tedious and I ended up glazing over a lot. I think this book could have easily been about half the size without losing quality.

I think The Phantom Tollbooth would be good in small doses—read a chapter then go read something else and come back to it. But reading cover to cover is a bit too much.

♥ ♥ (2/5 hearts)

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