Synopsis from the Usborne website:
Becket Rumsey is all at sea.
His dad has run away with him and his brother Billy in the middle of the night. And they’ve left everything behind, including their almost-mum Pearl. Becket has no idea what’s going on – it’s a mystery.
So with the help of Billy and a snail called Brian, Becket sets out on a journey of discovery. It’s not plain sailing but then what journeys ever are?
An extraordinary story of courage, dreams and finding your way, from the bestselling author of A Boy Called Hope.
So what did I think?
I’d been eagerly awaiting Lara Williamson’s new book The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair, having thoroughly loved A Boy Called Hope, and was really interested to see where Lara would go next. In a lot of ways there are similar themes between the two, although they are very different stories. They both portray working class families with warmth and humour in the face of adversity; and deal with the aftermath of emotions and confusion that children feel as they interpret difficult situations that their grown ups at home are caught up in. Both books deal with the trauma of not saying proper goodbyes to a parent. So fans of A Boy Called Hope will not be disappointed!
But of course the story and characters are very different. Becket and his brother Billy try to work out why Dad (who delivers fish from The Codfather van) has suddenly cut and run from his long term girlfriend Pearl, an artist, and in the process Becket gradually comes to terms with not having had the opportunity to say a proper goodbye to his mother.
What I especially enjoy about Lara’s books is that she really seems to get what’s important to kids, and her references are always so sharply observed and spot on, to a level that I just can’t compare with her peers. I think the way she portrays contemporary family life is realistic with extra lashings of jokes, in a way that is pretty much non-existent in the world of Middle Grade Fiction. There are laughs aplenty throughout the book, and so many brilliant one-liners. In a lot of ways this book reminded me of Frank Cottrell Boyce or Roddy Doyle (maybe a geographical link?!). Even though some of the issues the boys face are serious, the way she handles them with humour and Becket’s stoicism is just perfect for Middle Grade readers.
But what I really admire as an aspiring writer is her sheer cleverness in the way she pulls away from a couple of scenes, leaving you to work out what happened, and then plays with your assumptions by twisting the stereotypes. A few times I actually gasped out loud as I didn’t see things coming! One scene in particular really had my heart thumping. It was so good to find these delicious surprises.
And the spiritual, or mystical, side of the story about the paper cranes is magical and full of optimism, which beautifully offsets the sadness of Becket and Billy’s mum not being around. And Lara is (again, all too rarely) a champion in portraying dads in a positive light. If only more books did this.
Although this is a book about bereavement and moving forward, this is not a sad book at all, far from it. In some ways it’s a bit like Year of the Rat for younger readers. I can see it being a really excellent CBBC series, and I just have this feeling that Lara Williamson will be building up to something really HUGE as time goes on (I’m convinced she could tackle some really tough issues that other writers would shy away from).
I think this book would appeal to children who loved Frank Cottrell Boyce’s Millions, or Roddy Doyle’s Wilderness.
Thankyou Lara, looking forward to the next one!
P.S If you go to the Usborne website you can read the first chapter, and the Middle Grade Strikes Back interview with Tizzie Frankish is well worth a read too.