3 out of 4 stars
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Phillip Leighton-Daly conjures a bleak image of a doomed world in his short story, The Boiling Toad. In the planet of Fossil lies the civilization of Soot, and within is a small community called Coke. The names are fitting, for in this world, coal is king. Citizens live and breathe coal. It's the sort of place where schools award "Diplomas in Fossil Fuels." Mining is a revered profession, and workers who contract lung disease are rewarded with medallions — coal-encrusted, of course!
But Soot is on a definite course for destruction, though its citizens are stubbornly ignorant of their impending doom. Only a blind-mute young woman named Lucidia is aware of the danger, gifted as she is with telepathy. Lucidia warns the citizens of Soot using the titular "boiling toad." Yes, she literally boils a toad in water, with the hapless amphibian dying because of its inability to perceive the change in temperature. The significance of Lucidia's demonstration, however, is completely lost on the people. Can Soot be saved at all? With a leader called The Royal Buffoon (or Buff for short) on the helm, it’s difficult to hold on to hope.
The Boiling Toad is steeped in satirical and allegorical elements that will surely resonate with readers, both young and old. The world the characters inhabit is surreal, but it also reflects certain realities about our own planet. We see a society that worships fossil fuel to a comical extent, and we watch how they ultimately paid the price. While offering an allegory for climate change, Leighton-Daly also depicts the impotence and short-sightedness of the powers that be in addressing a potentially catastrophic issue. The toad basking in boiling water is a powerful metaphor on its own, and an accompanying illustration serves to further sear the image into the reader’s memory. There are other beautiful full-page illustrations in the book, fleshing out the images of Lucidia; her twin sister, Adeline; Lucidia’s dog, Addie; and other key characters in the story.
Leighton-Daly gives readers a window into a future that could just as well become real, if we’re not careful. This isn't only a cautionary tale, however, as the narrative also depicts a sweet story of sisterly love. The strength of human bonds is shown in Lucidia’s rapport with the other orphans in the community, and humanity’s relationship with nature is a theme that’s explored to a satisfactory end. Parents and teachers can use the story to discuss the issue of climate change with young readers, a timely lesson for these so-called inheritors of the earth. On the other hand, older readers will find this a darkly amusing and thought-provoking read.
While I like the brevity of the book, I think some scenes can still be expanded. For instance, the sections leading to the conclusion feel somewhat rushed that they have almost no emotional impact. Also, the text definitely needs another round of proofreading. The errors are not overly distracting — the worst being a word usage issue (teamed vs. teemed) and a verb tense error (lay vs. laid) — but there are just too many for a 44-page text. All things considered, The Boiling Toad gets a rating of 3 out of 4 stars.
The Boiling Toad
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