Saturday, May 22, 2010

boom!


by Mark Haddon
Random House, 2009. 195 pgs. Fiction

One wonders what with all that "stiff upper lip" stuff how the Brits continue to be so much funnier than we are, but Mark Haddon's new children's book reinforces that truth in spades. When James' sister claims she overheard the teachers at their school talking about sending him to a "special school" for kids with problems, James and his friend Charlie come up with a scheme to hide a walkie-talkie in the teachers' break room to find out if James really has to shape up. What they hear instead is Mr. Kidd and Mrs. Pearce talking to each other in a language not resembling anything spoken on earth. Their oblique attempts to find out what is going on fail, so Charlie approaches Mr. Kidd directly and repeats one of the alien words--Spudvetch!--to startling effect. Mr. Kidd's eyes suddenly glow neon blue and the boys take off without looking back. Soon after, Charlie disappears and scary guys with scary eyes turn up at James' house. He and his sister Becky (who loves death metal and has stopped shaving her armpits) escape on her boyfriend Craterface's motorbike and find the aliens after a frightening trip to Scotland. James finds Charlie in a place one would never expect and earth brains turn out to be superior to alien brains as the boys narrowly escape extermination. Though the Outer Space parts of this story don't succeed like the Earth bits, there are still thrills, chills, and laughs aplenty as two normal enough boys find everything suddenly going "pear-shaped." A cautionary note: as is presently customary amongst tweens and teens on both sides of the Pond, Becky occasionally takes the name of Deity in vain. (Haddon is also the author of the remarkable and best-selling adult/young adult book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.)

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