The Accidental Prime Minister by Tom McLaughlin

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The Accidental Prime Minister by Tom McLaughlin

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Z J Cookson
Reviewed by Z J Cookson
Summary: A story with well-drawn characters and some entertaining aspects which sadly falls short of the considerable promise of the superb title and original idea.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 240 Date: April 2015
Publisher: OUP Oxford
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0192737748

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Longlisted for the Branford Boase Award 2016

What would happen if a shy, slightly clumsy, 12 year old boy accidently found himself in the top job, living in Number Ten and making decisions for the country as Prime Minister? This is the premise behind Tom McLaughlin’s debut middle grade novel and the answer is simple – there’d be national ‘Fancy Dress Friday’ every week (on a Thursday), high fives would be used instead of handshakes, jelly would be available on the NHS, and one day every month the pupils would get to be the teachers.

Joe Perkins is angry when he discovers the authorities are closing the park where his mum works. So angry in fact that when the obnoxious Prime Minister, Percival T Duckholm, turns up to visit his school Joe can’t resist calling the Prime Minister a big ‘dafty’ and telling him exactly how the country should be run. The film of Joe’s outburst is posted on the internet and quickly goes viral leading the Prime Minister to resign and pass the top job to Joe.

I absolutely love both the title and the concept of this book. Its release is also perfectly timed given all the publicity around the General Election. Unfortunately, however, neither the story nor the writing lived up to the expectations that the title and concept created.

While there are some entertaining descriptions, in general I found the proliferation of over the top similes and clichés irritating. Indeed some were so obscure that I stopped reading altogether as I tried to work out exactly what picture the author wanted me to conjure in my mind. The Deputy Prime Minister, for example, is described as having ‘brains as sharp as a pot of pencils dipped in lemon juice’ while a meeting with the opposition leader would require ‘all your strength not to vomit through your nose.’ (I spent several unproductive minutes trying to work out whether it is biologically possible to vomit through your nose. I have yet to reach a conclusion).

My other niggle is with the plot itself and, specifically, the method by which Joe becomes Prime Minister. It seems lazy to me that an author who has spent many years as a political cartoonist would chose to introduce a character who is a ‘constitutional expert’ and have them state that the Prime Minister can simply sign the role over to anyone they choose. Why not be technically accurate and have the majority party so swept up in the international media frenzy that they simply vote Joe into the top job?

These negatives aside, the main characters – Joe, his mum and best friend Ajay – are well drawn. Assigned to the role of media manager, personal assistant and life-style guru, Ajay particularly leaps off the page and has some truly wonderful quips and one liners. I laughed out loud when Ajay describes the YouTube response to Joe’s outburst and tells poor Joe that he’s become ‘even more popular than that cat who plays the piano!’

The demands that Joe makes when he tells old Duckholm how to run the country, and the changes he brings in as Prime Minister, are also fun and original and almost guaranteed to make you smile. I particularly liked the demand to ban shows like ‘Britain’s Got The X-Factor Voice on Ice’. However, as with the reference to the piano-playing cat, these references to popular culture will inevitably quickly date this book. Not that this really matters as I very much doubt that the publishers are expecting this book to become a classic.

Overall, while this story has well-drawn characters and some entertaining aspects, I feel the book falls short of the considerable promise of the superb title and original idea.

Further reading suggestion: Ratburger by David Walliams

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