The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne

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The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne

Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A very enjoyable fable and morality tale for youngsters of ten and up through to teens, which unfortunately loses some sense and subtlety in the last quarter.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: August 2012
Publisher: Doubleday Childrens
ISBN: 9780857531469

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Longlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2013

Whereas some children's authors make their young heroes and heroines out to be as regular human beings, John Boyne does things differently. After the boy whose dad had the strangest job in this world, came Noah Barleycorn and his unusual parentage, and now Barnaby Brocket. He shouldn't have turned out extraordinary in any way - both his parents are Mr and Mrs Average Australian, and his dad certainly keeps both feet on the ground - it's just Barnaby cannot. From the moment he was born, gravity has had the wrong effect on him, and he's spent his life bumping into the ceiling. Until one fateful day, when he is forced to both go and grow up, and finds out just what a rarity being normal is.

He meets friendly strangers on his travels, but all with the stigma of being something other than what their parents expected - thus making this a young reader with a universal audience, for who never felt that? He bumps into elderly lesbians, and a young artist who should have been interested in money and business instead. But all this is played both with a teen-pleasing savviness, with tween-conscious manners, and with mostly sterling subtlety - the adult can pick out the teenager who's pregnant here, but the young might even miss entirely the fact we are told this detail as well as shown it.

As Barnaby's journeying takes him further and further we see more instances of parental or family expectations being enforced - two want their child to be a fat slob so he fits in with them, another wants her beauty pageant genes continuing. If anything the journey and events go a little too far, however, and the moral of the book is certainly laid on too thick by the end. We were never in a real world - a passportless place where postcards cross the planet in no time at all - but I can see this coming too fantastical, even for the target audience.

I think this is Boyne's most blatant fable yet, even if you could call his earlier books for youngsters such. It's written just so as to not outstay its welcome - there are a lot of peculiarities not featured that could have been, and with an intelligent sense of humour and style. But just as some of the illustrations bear inaccurate detail compared to the text, so ultimately this is too off-kilter. Its science in the last quarter is just plain hokum, and while fables often end with their lesson a second time in one line, this does it too forcefully. Before then, one of my favourite authors gives us invention, detail, a hero to care about, and proof to all youngsters that they should just be themselves. I still think it would be a normal thing for you to do to witness that for yourselves.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

If you want more unlikely flying to unusual places, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again by Frank Cottrell Boyce went down a storm.

Buy The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne at Amazon.com.


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