Joe Speedboat by Tommy Wieringa

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Joe Speedboat by Tommy Wieringa

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Life in a Dutch backwater through the eyes of Frankie, severely disabled through an accident. Layers of meaning permeate this eccentric but affecting book and there are plenty of laughs, in both good and bad taste.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: June 2009
Publisher: Portobello
ISBN: 1846271037

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Frankie is fourteen and has been in a terrible accident. After two hundred days in a coma, he begins to hear the conversations of his family around his bedside. They're talking about a new kid in town, the impossibly-named Joe Speedboat. Everything about him sounds vital and vivid, and curiosity pulls Frankie back into the land of the living. Shortly afterwards, he emerges from his coma. He's unable to walk or speak, and is severely spastic. He's got just one good arm left to him and enough determination to hang on to Joe Speedboat's coat-tails.

And they're some coat-tails. Joe blows things up - even his own fingers. He builds planes, just so that he can fly over Mrs Eilander's garden to see if she really does sunbathe naked. Joe is all about movement and motion, while Frankie is all about standing still in prematurely frozen development. You can see the attraction for Frankie. Joe, meanwhile, has ambitions for his friend. That one good limb has potential, and so the two embark on a maniacal scheme to create the unlikeliest world champion arm wrestler you've ever seen.

This is such a lovely book, full of eccentricity and charm. I keep telling you that books remind me of films by Shane Meadows, sorry, but here's another one. There's a great deal of realism in Joe Speedboat - it's all about the grinding disability Frankie faces, life in a very ordinary town, and the shifting relationships between a group of adolescents as they pass into adulthood. It's all kitchen sink stuff, peppered with the sometimes lustful, sometimes competitive and sometimes lonely and desperate thoughts of all adolescent boys, not just Frankies in their wheelchairs. But it's all looked at with humour. Joe builds a plane because three teenage boys have never seen a woman's pubic hair, and it's vital that they do. Of course it is!

There's a lot of wisdom too. From his static position, Frankie has a great deal of time to ponder the world around him - indeed, he becomes very fond of introspective Japanese thought - and he offers his insights readily, turning a spotlight onto many of the more base human attributes. Most people are average, some even downright substandard; all of them, however, are extremely sensitive to the higher concentration of energy or talent in the above-average person. If they have no access to that which makes you shine, they don't want you to have it either. He's not wrong there, is he?

There are moments of real pain, too, especially when Frankie is forced to face the way others see him. I won't forget the wall of paper briquettes in a garage for a very long time. But life does have pain, there's no point in pretending it doesn't. We do ourselves a real disservice if we do pretend it doesn't. And I think this is Joe Speedboat's real triumph. It doesn't pretend. It sees things as they are, and yet it still emerges with a great sense of positivity and hope. For all its pain, life is good. And we should make the most of it.

My thanks to the nice people at Portobello for sending the book.

Joe Speedboat is a bit of a one-off, but if you enjoyed it, you might also have fun reading Submarine by Joe Dunthorne. Oliver isn't in wheelchair, but he has plenty of other problems to cope with. Benton Kirby in Up a Tree in the Park at Night with a Hedgehog by Paul Robert Smith is altogether more surreal, but you might like him too. Nobody should go through life without reading Fup by Jim Dodge.

Booklists.jpg Joe Speedboat by Tommy Wieringa is in the Top Ten Adult Books That Teens Should Read.

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Buy Joe Speedboat by Tommy Wieringa at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Joe Speedboat by Tommy Wieringa at


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