boom! by Mark Haddon

boom! (or 70,000 light years) by Mark Haddon (David Fickling Books, 2010, middle grade on up, 195 pages)

When I heard that Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, had written a science fiction book for kids, it went on my list. By happy chance, when my husband was laid low last week with Sickness, I was able to bring it home from the library to comfort him in his affliction. And he was comforted. (He also got Mockingjay, but he liked this one lots better).

boom! tells of two English lads, Jim, the narrator, and his buddy Charlie, who stumble into a gang of aliens with cool technology and tails. The tails they keep hidden, because tails are a dead giveaway when you are trying to pass as human...and two of the aliens are passing as teachers in Jim and Charlie's school. Soon, the boys Know Too Much, Charlie falls into their clutches, and Jim finds himself enlisting the help of his big sister, Becky (with whom relationships had been strained) for a wild motorcycle ride to Scotland, where the aliens have their secret base...Fortunately, the pluck and cunning of the kids (with help from Becky, who wields a mean club) is sufficient to squelch the alien threat, and all is well...for the moment, at least.

Good, straightforward boys vs aliens. Character development is beautifully combined with action and cool stuff, and unlike many "aliens on earth" stories, the characters actually get to journey out among the stars....In short, a most excellent science fiction for the young, the bedridden not quite so young, or any reader who wants a brisk and zesty adventure.

My only reservation is that the cover (literally) doesn't tell you a darn thing about what the book is about. Not a single helpful word. And the first paragraph, although it describes an interesting sandwich choice, doesn't do much to express "this is a cool book with aliens!" It does not help that the sandwich is Red Leicester and gooseberry jam, which most American kids would not understand, and those that would might well find repulsive. However, at least the title is no longer Gridzbi Spudvetch, which graced its first incarnation back in 1992. In short, it will probably need to be hand-sold to kids.

This is not Haddon's first venture into writing for kids--I have now added his Agent Z series to my list of things to look for. Perhaps I will be able to get 10 year old child to read them, even. Boom! did not attract his fickle gaze. Which is too bad. Maybe if I read him the first five chapters or so out loud....

other reviews at Book Aunt, Kids Lit, and The Excelsior File.


  1. I've heard some great things about this book. I'll need to read it. It sounds like it might be a good read aloud!

  2. I love Mark Haddon, and love learning about this new book.

  3. Huh. I guess it's a case where the publisher thought a rocket on a bright orange cover might sell the book better than anything else? Sounds interesting...

  4. Boy, the cover is ...understated for MG. And I daresay that though few would know what Red Leicester and gooseberry jam might be, there are five hundred of them who are now going to try jam and cheddar together. :) That's the joy of childhood. I heard about peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwiches on a stupid Pledge commercial and made my mother make me one. Good Lord - I'd rather take my culinary cues from books than commercials any day...

  5. Like the reading out loud introduction. It's working for us. Moslty.

    Looking forward to book shopping

  6. I loved this one - so hilarious! But yeah, the cover is a turn-off.

  7. It very very difficult to sell bad covers no matter how good the story is, especially when its a hardcover.

    Not being able to sell a good book because of a bad cover is a bookselling pet peeve.

    The Boom cover is extra troubling because the book sounds like a great book for boys who arereluctant readers

    But I already know these selective readers won't give the Boom cover a second look

    Bad unsellable covers make me not want to read the book.

  8. It is too bad, I think. Although doubtless the book is getting some help from adult fans...

    I'm glad the reading out loud is working, at least mostly :) Penthe!

    And although I agree in principle, Tanita, I still have Deep Reservations about jam and cheddar. Almost as deep as my mayonnaise and p.b. reservations...

  9. After hearing good things about this book, I was quite disappointed with Boom. It was a difficult book to get into. The characters, setting, and slang are very British - far more than most Brit imports. I know that should not be relevant but I really don't think many of the kids in my school will stick with it much past a few pages. I kinda think this is more an adult funny read than a middle school book and the cover won't drawn in the YAs at all.


Free Blog Counter

Button styles