The Day the Screens Went Blank by Danny Wallace and Gemma Correll
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|The Day the Screens Went Blank by Danny Wallace and Gemma Correll|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A book that nudges you to think about how 2020 and viruses may have changed our life, but primarily a wonderfully fun and lively adventure.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 368||Date: March 2021|
|Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's UK|
|External links: Author's website|
Meet Stella and her family. They're just innocently trying to have a Sunday evening in together, watching a film – using three different screens to watch three different things, mind – when poof everything goes blank. And it's not just their home, but the entire south-western village of Mousehole, and not just that, either, but the whole country, if not world. Suddenly people are constantly on their phones – hoping they're first to get a screen back, and not what they were constantly doing on them before. Toasters can toast, but TVs cannot do the V part of their job, and no computer can show its computations. You might think this is going to be a social comedy about people stuck in such a Luddite experience against their will, but no. For the family finally remember Stella's grandma, and see if they can get across country to her. Hence this has to go down as a road-trip book. But not just that, a slapstick road-trip comedy. And more than that, too – for it's a slapstick, high-drama, high-octane road-trip comedy with oodles of cuddly heart that kids of all ages will love.
A couple of things told me I was going to enjoy this. More importantly where you are concerned will probably be the author's name, which was important even if I've not read any of his other children's books before. Knowing him of old from the TV, comedy and his journalism, I knew his potential in providing a light-hearted winner, and I'd never sniffily accused him of being a mere Celebrity Novelist. Of less concern to you would be the state of my proof copy, with its funky redesign of the real artwork, and tactile, embossed paperback cover. People rarely produce a proof so well if it's not going to have the goods to deliver.
And this delivers. Stella is great company, and Danny Wallace has nailed her trying to be worldly-wise and getting it wrong at the same time, what with her judgements of her father's driving speeds, and misinterpreting worry about the markets as being about the fruit and duvet covers sellers up in town. I knew he could do the social observation side of things, where phones pre-wipeout are being used for silly things like apps to remind you to breathe, and of course Stella's parents' youth without mobile phones, which demanded you to be prompt to the start of a pub-crawl or never know where people had crawled to. But his work does not just stop at the child-friendly characterisation, or the fine jokes he manages to conjure. No, it's also what he does with his situation, taking a unique form of Broken Britain and taking it for such a journey.
And just as my copy's cover came with some nice, but inessential, embellishments, so too does the story. It didn't have to have all the above and more AND yet also show us a potential world in such a Covid-savvy way. Part of Stella's shtick is that, despite her earlier saying she was super-organised, itemising every hour on her mother's hand-me-down phone, she's also constantly exasperated about how adults forget a pre-screen life, or proper leisure time. Wallace does try to have his cake and eat it here – making Stella both surprised nobody owns an analogue timepiece, or a map, and yet boggled as to what kind of creature could remember people's phone numbers back in the day when we had to. But generally she's a great guide to what happens when the world goes to pot and nothing works as we once knew it. Panic-buy loo rolls and lettuce, that's what we do – she just wants to go to the park with a kite and a little brother. I'd much rather people went to purchase this with the same urgency, for I doubt there'll be many books like this this year. It's a great combination of cleverness and narrative brio, and ultimately important message delivered in timely, recognisable ways, and I definitely recommend it – on paper, mind, not digital. You never know...
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
While this is a stand-alone, there are six books so far in the author's series beginning with Hamish and the Worldstoppers.
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You can read more book reviews or buy The Day the Screens Went Blank by Danny Wallace and Gemma Correll at Amazon.com.
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