With his marvelous new book, Timothée de Fombelle does exactly this. He makes a tree the living center of the universe for the reader and, through his magnificent writing, enhances a sense of wonder. With his subdued environmental themes, as well as the portrayal of nurturing, empathetic relationships among characters, he encourages a respect for life. As Toby thinks to himself on day three of being snowed in (for what turns out to be over 120 days) while he is going over his provisions and figuring out how he will survive, "What was he missing? What keeps us alive more than anything else? Other people. This was the conclusion he reached. Other people."
This book is not to be missed, for all readers - child and adult, fantasy and reality lovers. It would make a wonderful read aloud as de Fombelle's language is frequently beautiful even though the events of the plot can be harsh at times. Interestingly enough, I finished reading another book by a French author the same week I finished Toby Alone. Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog, although it is not a fantasy and has no environmental themes, does manage to examine the complexities of human nature while exploring the wonders and riches that art, in any form - literature, painting, sculpture, film, food - bring to the human existence and life in general. I may be grasping at straws to link these two, but I did feel that both books brought important ideas and images to the forefront of my mind in ways that other books have not.
For those of you who purchase this book in hardcover, a real treat is in store. The dust jacket unfolds and expands to reveal a beautiful map of the tree! And, for those of you who read or listen to the book, another, even better treat awaits you... The sequel, Toby and the Secrets of the Tree, is due out in August of 2010.