A tale that starts badly and ends more or less well, with an underpinning of dubious philosophy and a shrill, “now I shall teach you” voice.
It begins with the idea that good people should be beautiful, and bad people should be ugly (“scraggly hair and warty noses”) so the one can be told from the other. Plain, orphaned Margaret has fetched up at the Hopeton orphanage. While the beautiful Miss Switch is all maternal glow when Margaret arrives at what the moths of the titular tree call the “orfallidge,” all the loveliness vanishes as soon as the guests do. The children are tormented and ill-fed, divided into “dregs” and “Pets.” This Dahl-esque scenario gives the omniscient narrator a platform from which to lecture readers about bullies, those who care only for appearances and so on. Margaret, however, used to silence, learns to hear the voices of the moths and learns they love to eat Nimblers, which are the gossamer stuff of dreams. Of course, the current Nimblers are bitter, because the orphans’ dreams are so sad. Margaret and the moths overcome, but not before there are such horrors as a child’s long thick braid being cut off in a fit of Miss Switch’s pique.
While possibly reaching for a bit of Lemony Snicket’s basket of queasy joy, this falls very flat. (Fantasy. 8-12)