Friday, March 26, 2010

Review of Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Boyce, Frank Cottrell. Cosmic. HarperCollins, 2010.

If you can accept the wild premise that a 12-year-old boy can look enough like a 30-year-old man to fool numerous kids and adults into thinking he's old enough to have a 12-year-old daughter, then you're set to enjoy this book.

And if this is too much of a stretch, don't worry. This isn't meant to be realistic fiction - in fact, think Roald Dahl slathered with a good dose of Daniel Pinkwater, and you're getting close to the attitude of this loopy, off-the-wall tale.

That Liam is abnormally tall and whiskery enough to be taken for an adult is well set up. He has to carry around his passport to assure various adults that yes, he is indeed just a kid, and he and his slightly annoying friend Florida have fun pretending in public that she is his daughter. After they pretend to want to buy a sports car, which nearly leads to what would have been a certainly illegal and possibly lethal test drive, Florida gets tired of the game. Therefore, she takes some convincing (and some lying to) when Liam wins an opportunity for a few select dads and their kids to preview an amazing new Chinese theme park.

Except it's not quite a theme park - and its most thrilling ride is an actual rocket, for blasting four children and one dad into space and back. Long story short - Liam ends up being the dad.

The three real dads and their kids are right out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, each with a fatal flaw - love of control and power, avariciousness, and so on - that makes them surreal and cartoony. Liam, being an authentic sort of kid, may not make a particularly good or convincing dad, but he is by far the best human of the bunch.

By the time the rocket has gone off course and left the kids with no contact with Earth, the reader may be hard pressed to remember that Liam is, in fact, only 12 years old. He has had to pull himself together and exhibit true Dadliness to the other four so that they not only won't fall apart but can actually find a way to get back home.

Convincing? Of course not - this is a far-fetched Pinkwateresque tale, filled with unlikely characters and impossible situations. But what will be clear to readers is that Liam is able to save the situation thanks to the love and support he has always gotten from his own dad - and his mom, as well. When Liam suddenly gets a signal on his cell phone, a call from his dad immediately comes through. Not because of some coincidence, but because his dad is worried about Liam (who is supposedly away at some school nature trip) and has been calling non-stop.

Fans of Boyce's previous novels will enjoy this one as well, but give it to all those who have enjoyed the odd humor of Daniel Pinkwater, Adam Rex's The True Meaning of Smekday, and of course Roald Dahl. For grades 4 to 7.

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