[Nostalgia Project] The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

While finalizing my 21 Milestone Reads list, I was struck by two major thoughts:

  1. There are far, far more than 21 books that I remember fondly, though
  2. for many such books, all I remember is that I enjoyed it.

One such book is The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, which has bonus nostalgia factor because I read and reread it with my younger brother. It’s not the earliest book I remember, but it’s one of the ones I remember most strongly, so I figured it was a strong contender to kick off this series.

The Nostalgia Project is a series here on Nine Tale Vixen, where I reread childhood favorites (and finally finish off some series) to see if/how my impression has changed over the years.

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. . . .

Genre(s): Childrens/Middle Grade, Fantasy, Classics
by Random House Children’s Books, originally in 1961
[ Add it on Goodreads ]

Whether or not you find your own way, you’re bound to find some way. If you happen to find my way, please return it, as it was lost years ago. I imagine by now it’s quite rusty.

I like to think that I would’ve enjoyed this even without the rosy tint of fond childhood memories, but it’s hard to be sure when I can so vividly recall how gleefully my brother and I would recite some of these dialogues. (My brother would at one point go through a phase where “AS LOUD AS POSSIBLE” seemed to be his motto.) There were definitely scenes neither of us understood at the time, but we enjoyed every word. 

And the words are really the star of the show here, if you ask me — the wordplay is nothing short of brilliant. From Tock the (ticking) Watchdog to the banquet where each character literally eats his words, the book is full of the most wholesome kind of humor. It’s intelligent but not patronizing though I’ve seen it called pretentious, and everyone is entitled to their opinion but those people are wrong. Just saying.

The characters, of course, are absolutely lovable too. Although Milo isn’t super interesting in and of himself, he serves as a solid POV character, even as a reader stand-in if that’s how you want to read it: he’s smart enough to get by, and smart enough to realize how much he has to learn. Tock is wonderfully loyal and fierce; the Humbug provides comic relief; each of the minor characters introduces fascinating ideas and perspectives.

An older reader might find the narrative arc to be on the simplistic side, though I think that’s part of its charm. You don’t need three subplots to keep the reader engaged, if you’re as masterful a storyteller as Juster. An older reader might also find the themes to be on the optimistic side, perhaps bordering on preachy. But again, I really think that’s what makes this work.

So all this to say, this is very much a children’s book, but it’s definitely not just for children. I loved it just as much as I ever have, and it’s one I’ll most likely continue to revisit in the future.

4.5 stars

Conversion: 13.35 / 15 = 4.5 stars

Prose: 9 / 10
Characters & Relationships: 9 / 10
Emotional Impact: 8 / 10
Development/Flow: 7 / 10
Setting: 10 / 10

Diversity & Social Themes: N/A
Intellectual Engagement: 4 / 5
Originality/Trope Execution: 5 / 5
Rereadability: 5 / 5
Memorability: 5 / 5

  • If you’ve read The Phantom Tollbooth, did you like it? If not, are you interested in reading it?
  • What are some of your childhood favorite reads? Would you consider rereading them?

5 thoughts on “[Nostalgia Project] The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

  1. I’ve had the Phantom Tollbooth on my TBR list for years. It’s one of those books I know I’m going to love even before picking it up, but somehow I never get around to reading it. I really need to remedy that and go check it out at the library.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah I’d never heard of it but I love that it was a nostalgia/throwback read for you and that you still loved it! Haha I recently reread Julie of the Wolves, and though I still loved the story I realized it’s not held up to time, but, gotta love some nostalgia every now and then

    Liked by 1 person

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