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City of Rust

City of Rust

Published: 4 Mar 2021

Paperback / softback, 352 pages

Recommended for age 9+ and 11+

By Gemma Fowler

Published by Chicken House Ltd

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Railey dreams of winning the drone races with her bio-robotic gecko friend, Atti. But when a bounty hunter crashes their biggest race yet, the pair are forced to flee skywards. The danger is bigger than anything they'd imagined: a huge trash bomb, and its power-crazed creator, threaten to destroy the world ...

This title features in our The Reading Journey selection.

Tagged courage and environment

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Reviewed by Kelly Ashley

City of Rust is the first middle-grade (ages 9+) offering from author Gemma Fowler.  This delicious, dystopian novel is the perfect mixture of Mad Max, Cogheart (Peter Bunzl) and The Tin Forest (Helen Ward) – a perfect choice for young readers who have a thirst for sci-fi adventures. The intricate, golden cover design by Karl James Mountford immediately draws the reader into a junkyard world, where waste is treasure.

The protagonist in City of Rust is Railey – a young inventor with an eye for engineering and a craft for cultivating scrapyard waste into magnificent, drone-racing machines. Atti, Railey’s best friend, is her bionic gecko – forged with the discrete purpose of piloting these drones.  The pair live in a world where discarded rubbish shapes the landscape, within the rust-lined streets of ‘the great container city of Boxville…’ (page 3) ‘…a city made from the scraps’ (page 5).

In contrast, Glass City (adjacent to the wasteland of Boxville) is a pristine sanctuary where the residents live free of their filth – quickly discarding their garbage for others in this world to deal with. As we are drawn into this alternate sphere, we learn that the people of Glass City took the decision many years prior to jettison mountains of detritus into the Earth’s atmosphere – everything from washing machines to rusted car parts to aeroplanes. Out of sight, out of mind is the philosophy of those living comfortably in Glass City.  Within the galactic ‘Soup,’ refuse has been building over the years, as it circles round and round in a menacing, litter-fuelled vortex.

This fast-paced novel is a race against the clock, from ground level within the city of Boxville and into the outer reaches of the atmosphere.  Our heroes discover that the collection of trash in the man-made ‘Soup’ has become dangerous to those living both above and below. Can Railey and Atti, along with new friends they meet along the way, save the planet? With twists and turns on each page, the reader is soon drawn into this exciting, other-worldly adventure.

As the setting of this novel is fantastical, some young readers may benefit from guided visualisation to help them live out the action in the story.  For example, how would you draw the container city of Boxville? What would the city look like if you were to walk along its streets?  What might the people look like who live here – what jobs would they have and how might they dress?

‘Boxville was a city made from the scraps.  Everything here had lived a hundred lives before, they had been made, then unmade and then remade again – the buildings, the clothes, the food, even the people.’ (page 5)

In contrast, how would you represent Glass City and its residents?

The city visible beyond the mountains was a sprawling, modern metropolis, clean and gleaming, filled with grand boulevards and lush, green parks.’ (page 76)

Opportunities to visualise and discuss this new world will deepen readers’ experience with the fast-paced action as it unravels. Whether read aloud or enjoyed as an independent read, City of Rust will leave its readers fizzing with wonder as they are invited to step into another world.

With over 20 years of education experience in both the US and the UK, Kelly Ashley currently works as an independent consultant, providing training and support for primary schools across the UK. Kelly's particular interest in language acquisition and vocabulary development has led to the publication of her first book, Word Power: Amplifiying vocabulary instruction (2019) - full of ideas for building a language-rich environment and top tips to Power-Up explicit vocabulary instruction.