Frank Cottrell Boyce
Macmillan UK, 2008
published in US in 2010

This book is totally cosmic…really. Hilarious. Well-written. Great characterization. Celebration of dads (I mean, c’mon–since when does THAT happen in a middle grades book??). Out-of-this-world adventure (for real). And I am *definitely* bumping Boyce’s Millions to the top of the to read pile.

When the book opens, we hear Liam narrating to his cell phone: “Mom, Dad–if you’re listening–you know I said I was going to the South Lakeland Outdoor Activity Center with the school? To be completely honest, I’m not exactly in the Lake District. To be completely honest, I’m more sort of in space….”

And he is! Liam is an extra tall 12-year-old who is growing facial hair and regularly gets mistaken for a grownup. He loves playing multiplayer online games such as World of Warcraft because he can pick any character he wants (his is shorter than average). He clearly loves his parents, but he also metaphorically rolls his eyes at them–typical middle school student in many ways. He enters a contest as a “dad” and wins a trip with his “daughter” (friend, Florida) to a new theme park/thrill ride. When he and Florida arrive, they find out they’re in China with three other dads and their sons; the object is to test drive a new top secret rocket.

Throughout the book, Liam’s reflections on what he needs to do to be a good dad are obviously stemming from his relationship with his own dad. He makes some crazy decisions, but he honestly seeks to love and protect the kids in his care. And his relationship with his own, very ordinary dad comes full circle at the end of the book in a great tribute to good dads. A great, fun read about a very likable kid who goes on an amazing adventure. I wonder if the technology references will date this book too much in the future–but hopefully it will be enjoyed a LOT in the meantime.

Recommended for middle school and up (not a hard read, but I think middle schoolers and up will most appreciate the tug and pull between wanting to be a grownup and wanting your own dad to come save you)

I won’t tell you anymore. But I will entice you with some terrific quotations and examples of Boyce’s style:

(Remember, Liam is a 12-year-old pretending to be a dad. He is understandably not interested in typical “dad” things)

“Golf. If you think Monopoly is boring, you should try golf. If you were playing golf inside World of Warcraft, what skills would you need? Running skills? No. Sword skills? No. Cunning? No. Wisdom? You are joking. The object of the ‘game’ is to put a ball in a hole. Tidying-up skills, that’s what you’d need…. When you say ‘hazard’ to normal people they think of ice on the road, or fog, or sudden invasions of Night Elves. Golfers think you mean sand. Or a puddle with a duck in it.”

“…the sun rolled up and peeled a strip of shadow off [the building’s] back, as though it was a huge red banana. And then it tore up all the other shadows like tissue paper and there was everyone unwrapped on the tarmac, like surprises.”

“No one else heard her say this because there was a sound like mountains snoring.” (I love that last phrase!)

“In zero gravity we really were like a family of novelty balloons.”

“When you look at the moon from Earth, it looks a bit smudgy. I mean, you know the smudges are mountains and so on but really they just look like blotches. But from where I’m sitting, you can see they’re mad, spiky storybook mountains.”

(earlier, Liam has complained wittily about Monopoly…) “The game was Monopoly [in space]. There really is no getting away from it. I suppose that’s why it’s called Monopoly.”