Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Haddon, Mark. Boom! (or 70,000 light years). David Fickling Books/ Random House Children’s Books, 2010 (first U.S. edition) (3 stars out of 4).

I cannot remember how many times I have rewritten my old poetry. Every couple of years, I cure my latest round of writer’s block by remembering that I wrote something like it (whatever poem I am writing at the time) in a notebook many years ago. I always find a way to make the piece better, not only because I get new and exciting ideas, but because I am a better writer now than I was when I originally wrote the poem. As long as our interest in writing remains high, we become better writers as we gain more experience. As related in the Foreword of his new novel Boom!, Mark Haddon, British author of the immensely charming The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, has rewritten a YA novel he published in 1992 called Gridzbi Spudvetch! I did not even know Mr. Haddon was writing novels in 1992; since his prose in The Curious Incident . . . is so fresh, I assumed he was a new novelist. I do not know the original novel’s plot, intention, or concept, but Mr. Haddon has created, from the ashes of a long-forgotten novel, a likable story that pushes many of YA’s most important buttons: it has adventure, it has unlikely but fantastic action, it makes ordinary kids into heroes, and it is chock full of conspiracy theories.

When James’s (everybody calls him Jimbo) sister Becky tells him that his teachers are conspiring against him and that they are planning to send him to a reform school for his poor performance at school (minor to the objective observer but not to Jimbo), he and his best friend Charlie decide to place a walkie-talkie in the teachers’ lounge and listen to their conversations about Jimbo. When the teachers simply chat, Jim realizes he has been played by his sister until he and Charlie hear two of their teachers, Mrs. Pearce and Mr. Kidd, speaking in a strange language. After hearing their teachers say things like “Tractor bonting dross” and “Spudvetch!” to each other, they stumble upon a dangerous conspiracy of massive scope: “Forget Fenham [the reform school]. There was an adventure on its way, a nuclear-powered, one-hundred-ton adventure with reclining seats and a snack trolley. And it was pulling into the station right now” (29). When Charlie calls Jimbo in a panic and disappears the next day, Jimbo and Becky start the adventure of their lives, going first on a frantic motorcycle ride to Scotland, then to parts unknown. The siblings realize that what once seemed like a crazy intergalactic yarn is actually happening, and if they make the wrong move, not only may they inadvertently get Charlie killed, they may also get themselves killed by the burning blue light and the powerful brass bracelets the aliens (if they are aliens) wield so easily.

I confess that after reading his previous novel, I expected this work to be fresh, innovative, and original. Although I was generally disappointed on all three counts, that does not mean that Boom! is a poor novel, it’s just not new. As I read, I felt the influence of authors like Will Hobbs (Go Big or Go Home) and Adam Rex (The True Meaning of Smekday) sneaking in, making this novel fun, engaging, and somewhat exciting, but not unique for 2010. My students seldom care whether a book is original as long as it is a good read, so I will not levy any criticism against Boom! I enjoyed the story and I liked the pace, and I think my middle school students will appreciate them as well. I just wish Mr. Haddon had not set the bar so high with his first novel; I would have enjoyed this one more if I had never known what the author was truly capable of crafting.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home