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.