The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brockett
John Boyne, author
Oliver Jeffers, illustrator
Random House (Alfred A. Knopf BFYR)

I was drawn to this book because I like quirky stories, and I’m a huge fan of Oliver Jeffers (the illustrator). And, this book comes out on my birthday! (at least in the U.S.)

This book started out great! Poor Barnaby Brockett, born to terrible parents, sibling to two very ordinary kids, and master to one devoted dog. The book reads much as a classic Roald Dahl book might (complete with TERRIBLE parents!), and Jeffers’s illustrations add a similar touch as Quentin Blake’s might.

And yet, the book gets both more absurd and a trifle more boring in the second half. Barnaby’s malady (floating) is unrealistic, sure. But somehow, even though he’d floated up, gotten caught in a hot air balloon, been to South American, North America, Europe, and Africa (in addition to his home continent of Australia), when he floats up to space only to be intercepted by the international space mission… well, I was kind of over it by then.

An adventure, yes. Quirky, yes. Funny and endearing characters (save for Barnaby’s own family–and, honestly, Barnaby himself), yes. Good “message” (be yourself–who you were created to be), yes. But overall, a bit too absurd for my quirky tastes when all was said and done. I felt that the ending was a bit lackluster even though Barnaby was taking a stand. If you have children who enjoy reading quirky adventures, they may enjoy this one. But those who already struggle with the absurd (think: Wizard of Oz or even Roald Dahl, as mentioned earlier) will probably struggle with this one as well.

Things to Note/Discuss

  • How do we judge people who are different from us? Barnaby constantly meets people throughout the novel who have been rejected by family and/or society because they are different (sometimes in obvious physical ways and sometimes in more lifestyle ways–including subtle allusions to homosexuality as well as a pregnant teen girl). When do we automatically judge and/or reject just because we don’t think someone is “normal” (by our own standards)? When we think we have Biblical standards in mind, are we judging and/or rejecting or seeking to bring reconciliation and hope? Big difference between the two!

Thanks to Random House via netgalley for the ARC; goodreads for the cover shot!