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Young readers book reviews for ages 8 to 12 years old

*Boom!* by Mark Haddon- young readers fantasy book review
by Mark Haddon
Ages 9-13 208 pages David Fickling Books May 2010 Hardcover    

A zany science fiction novel aimed primarily at middle-grade boys, Boom! was originally published in 1992 under the title Gridzibi Spudvetch! After some demand from loyal fans of the original book, Mark Haddon rewrote and updated the book in 2010.

Boom! begins as a realistic school/family story about middle-school friends Jim and Charlie. Jimís family is in a state of flux: his father is unemployed; his mother a busy, working professional; and his hard-rocking sixteen-year-old sister, Becky, is obsessed with her motorcycle-riding boyfriend, affectionately known as Craterface.

The adventure begins when Becky gets mad at Jim for harassing her boyfriend, so she tells Jim that she has heard the teachers talking about sending him to reform school. Jim thinks this could be a realistic possibility, given his less than stellar school behavior and grades. The boys want to find out the truth, so they hide a walkie-talkie in the teacherís lounge to listen in on the teachersí conversations. Much to their surprise, they discover the history and art teachers, Ms. Pearce and Mr. Kidd, are speaking in a strange, unidentifiable language.

Intrigued and a little scared by what theyíve heard, Charlie initiates further investigation, following the teachers and gathering evidence in order to figure out what is happening. The boys end up in the attic of Ms. Pearceís house, where they find a small box. Inside is a piece of tinfoil-like paper with that same mysterious language written on it. The boys copy down the words, narrowly escape detection, and continue their quest to figure out what it all means.

One word stands out as familiar: Coruisk, a lake on the Isle of Skye in northern Scotland. When the boys confront the teachers with the strange words, a strange blue fluorescent light shines in their eyes. Each teacher touches a brass band on their wrist - just for a second or two - and then they are back to normal. Shortly thereafter, a stranger approaches the boys and tells them they are being watched. Charlie disappears the same day as Ms. Pearce and Mr. Kidd fail to show up at school.

Jim makes a quick excuse to leave school, grabs his sister and her boyfriendís motorcycle, and the two take off for Scotland following their only clue. After some narrow escapes, they find themselves transported to another world and find Charlie. The title Boom! refers to the sounds they hear in this mysterious place seemingly populated by abducted human science fiction fans (because the aliens cannot reproduce and need people to continue their world.)

At this point, the science fiction really takes over as a huge spider named Britney helps the boys and Becky escape. Back home in England, a curious visit from government officials makes the boys wonder about who is watching and what the authorities know about the world they just escaped.

The characters, especially Jim, are exceptionally well-drawn. One cannot help but cheer as Jim and Charlie confront the zany aliens and breathe a sigh of relief when they return home. Boom! is filled with laughter and implausible situations. Thatís what makes it a really fun book - not necessarily excellent literature, but highly entertaining and quite clever.

Haddon ingeniously intersperses humor throughout the book, so much so that some may consider it to be more of a science fiction spoof than anything else. The pace is very fast Ė thereís never a dull moment as the characters narrowly escape discovery. The friendly dialog is filled with Briticisms that young Americans will need to decode from context. Nevertheless, the book is a quick, fun read for any boy looking for a fast-paced, wacky adventure.
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