Monday, October 21, 2019

“Boom!” by Mark Haddon

In 1992, British author Mark Haddon published a middle grade book with the improbable title of Gridzbi Spudvetch!He says that, with a title like that, only 23 people bought the book (and he claims that number is an exaggeration). 

It went out of print, but he’d occasionally hear from fans who loved it. He’d been writing and publishing other books (like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in 2003) and his publisher would ask him about updating Gridzbi Spudvetch! He reread the book and realized it needed more-than-serious updating, plot hole-filling, and other improvements. He put it off, until he heard from a schoolteacher in Oxford, who read it aloud to her students, who loved it. So, Haddon tackled the rewrite, and Boom! was born in 2009.

The book, still aimed at the middle grades, is now 10 years old, just about the age of its hero, Jim, called Jimbo by the family. The story is fiction, and science fiction, and comedy, and drama, and downright funny. I knew I was captured when I laughed out loud on page three, as Jimbo lets fly from a balcony a “helicopter sandwich” of cheese and strawberry jam that smacks his sister’s greasy boyfriend squarely in the face. What brother hasn’t wanted to do exactly that, or something like it?

Mark Haddon
Jimbo and his best friend Charlie get into all kinds of mischief. When Jimbo’s sister claims she’s heard teachers at school talking about sending Jimbo to a “special school” for discipline, he and Charlie concoct a plan to bug the teachers’ lounge with walkie talkies. Mostly what they hear is boring teacher talk, until only two teachers are left in the room. They begin to speak in a language neither Charlie nor Jimbo has ever heard, saying things like “Gridzbi spudvetch!”

From there, the two boys stage a break-in of one of the teacher’s homes and find strange papers and documents that look like they’re in code. One turns out to be coordinates for an ordnance map of a location on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. And then Charlie disappears. A strange policeman tries to capture Jimbo. Two men break into his family’s apartment and are fought off by Jimbo, His sister, and the greasy boyfriend. Jimbo and his sister hop aboard the boyfriend’s motorcycle, and they’re off to Scotland to rescue Charlie. 

It’s all wildly improbable. It’s completely within the imagination of a nine-, ten-, or eleven-year old, defending Earth against scheming extra-terrestrials. And it’s totally fun.

Haddon is the author of several novels and young adult novels, including A Spot of Bother (2007) and The Red House (2013). He blogs under his own name.

I can easily see my fourth-grader grandson reading Boom!, while his second-grade brother listens, enraptured, and the two saying things to each other like “Spleeno ken mondermill.”


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