Monday, September 20, 2010

Review of Boom! by Mark Haddon

Haddon, Mark. Boom! David Fickling Books, 2010.

One of the defining moments of my first trip to England (besides nearly getting creamed by a double-decker bus near Trafalgar Square because I looked left, not right, before jaywalking) was discovering that the "cheese and pickle" sandwich I bought from a small shop was not in fact a cheese sandwich with bright green slices of pickled cucumber, but rather a cheese sandwich slathered with a brownish sweetish chutney-like substance. Ah! Toto, I've a feeling we're not in the United States any more.

And so it is with Boom! Here are the first two sentences of the book: "I was on the balcony eating a sandwich. Red Leicester and gooseberry jam." Wham, the reader is transported to merry old Great Britain. Here are some other exotic words one encounters during this breezy and often hilarious SF novel: garibaldi biscuits, secateurs, flat, paracetamol, articulated lorry, noughts and crosses, and tarmac. As someone who is offended by the word "flashlight" being substituted for "torch" in books that clearly take place in England, I find this refreshing indeed. American kids aren't so dumb and provincial that they can't figure out and even relish some good British lingo. So hats off to Boom!'s editor, who left the language intact in the American edition.

As for the plot, it's got two intrepid lads, plenty of sinister aliens disguised as teachers and other innocuous folks, a brave and reckless big sister, a wild ride through Scotland, a space station, and a loch - in other words, plenty of good stuff, even if it doesn't hang together very well. Let's say there are just a few loose ends. But it's the sheer funniness of the book, both its tone and its tossed-off one-liners, that is its huge selling point. Oh, and the bright orange cover and the exclamation point in the title.

I'm ranking this up there with Adam Rex's The True Meaning of Smekday, Frank Cottrell Boyce's Cosmic, and K.A. Holt's Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel as funny and excellent science fiction for middle grade kids.

Highly recommended for grades 4 to 6.


  1. I really enjoyed his book The Curious Incident in the Night Time, and am looking forward to this one. As an Australian I understand all of the Britishisms that stood out for you- indeed I would never have considered secateurs as a difficult word across the cultural divide- I guess it is French originally, what do you call them?

    I've never quite understood why American publishers are so keen on converting all words that might be slightly challenging to a recognisable American equivalent. It's quite condescending, and patronising really isn't it? It's like when Hollywood remakes a perfectly acceptable foreign language film. It's never as good.

    And actually noone ever thinks of doing the reverse- to change American terms back to English/Australian terms, do they?

  2. I've run across secateurs twice in the past week in two different books. We call 'em "pruning shears."
    I agree about Hollywood remakes. Bleah!

  3. Like Louise, I loved Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I am so interested to look for this one. Thanks for letting us know about it!

  4. I practically fell over this book at my library last week. I remembered your review, and of course had to pick it up. I enjoyed it. It wasn't as great as The Curious Incident, but it was a quick, fun read, and I'm glad that your post prompted me to read it. I also found a picture book called Garibaldi Biscuits, so I had to get that too- but I haven't had a chance to get to it just yet.

  5. Oh good - I'm glad you liked it!