A stupendous, laugh-out-loud, yet moving middle-grade adventure. Can I give this 6 out of 5?
Liam Digby is an ordinary 12-year-old. Ordinary in every way apart from the fact he’s unusually tall. So tall, in fact, that people often think he’s an adult. Like his first day at secondary school when the Headteacher assumed he was the new Media Studies teacher. Or the time he visited the car showroom with his friend, Florida, and the salesman suggested he take a Porsche on a test drive. Thus, when Liam wins a once-in-a-lifetime chance to ride the biggest thrill ride in the world and his dad refuses to go, the answer is obvious. He will simply have to become ‘the dad’ and persuade Florida to pose as his daughter. What could possibly go wrong? Well, quite a lot. The biggest thrill ride turns out to be a real space rocket and Liam and three other children find themselves tumbling out of orbit.
The story begins with Liam admitting he lied. He lied to his parents about where he was going: “I’m not exactly in the Lake District”. He lied about this age: “I sort of gave the impression I was about thirty. Obviously, I’m more sort of thirteen-ish. On my next birthday”. Liam’s first-person voice is immediately appealing and very VERY funny.
Liam goes on to explain how they ended up lost in space and the laugh-out-loud moments continue. These are joined by a slightly more serious commentary as Liam tries to do the ‘Dadly’ thing (with a bit of comic help from in his own dad’s copy of the book ‘Talk to Your Teen’). Liam’s attempts to be a good dad are in stark contrast to the appalling parenting of the fathers of the other children and we have a real moment of pathos when Florida finally opens up about her own dad.
The plot itself is surprisingly credible for something that’s so outlandish – or should I say out-of-this-world? Incredibly, it’s easy to believe that the characters are taking part in a space programme. Indeed, the only aspect that I failed to find entirely believable was the competition that brings the four dysfunctional families together. For me, it was just a little too reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This is, however, a tiny niggle in what is a stupendous, thoroughly enjoyable and highly-entertaining adventure.
I’ve loved this book for some time but this review is based on my recent discovery of the audio version. This means I can’t conclude without a shout out to Daniel Ryan who makes a perfect Liam.
If you enjoyed this, you might want to check out another cosmic adventure by Frank Cottrell Boyce in Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth. Alternatively, I’m planning to re-read (or maybe listen) to his award-winning debut, Millions.
Date: March 2015
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books