4 stars. The Phantom Tollbooth is the tale of Milo, a young boy who embarks on an adventure in a strange land when a mysterious tollbooth appears in his room. What follows is a rollicking journey through two kingdoms abandoned by Rhyme and Reason.
Norton Juster’s wordplay is the main star of this book. He is a master of both the literal (Milo lands on the Island of Conclusions after he makes an unfounded statement) and the pun (Milo’s faithful companion Tock is a watchdog–a dog with a clock face on his side). The dialog rewards attentive readers with a love for words with witty and pithy observations, making it a delight to read. Even when the book is at its silliest, there are plenty of subtle jokes to be found.
If I have a small complaint about The Phantom Tollbooth, it’s that the story is definitely secondary to the wordplay. Occasionally it felt like characters and events were contrived to make the next joke, sometimes making it feel like it was an endless string of “go here, have a witty conversation, repeat” events.
There’s plenty here for both adults and children. I’m sure I would have adored this book had I read it as a kid; instead, I merely enjoyed it for the razor-sharp wit.