The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket

by John Boyne
ages: 11+
First sentence: “This is the story of Barnaby Brocket, and to understand Barnaby, first you have to understand his parents: two people who were so afraid of anyone who was different that they did a terrible thing that would have the most appalling consequences for everyone they loved.”
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Barnaby Brocket was born to ordinary parents in an ordinary part of Sydney. It should have been a happy existence, except for one thing: Barnaby defies the law of gravity. He floats. This is a problem, not just for the obvious reasons of floating away, but because his parents just. don’t. like. anything out of the ordinary. And floating certainly is.

So Barnaby’s mother does the unthinkable: he lets him float away. And a whole new world is opened up to Barnaby. He goes on adventures, meets new people, and discovers that being unusual is actually quite good.

I really wanted to like this one. I think the idea is clever, and even the moral (heavy-handed though it is) as stated on page 91 (“Just because your version of normal isn’t the same as someone else’s version doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you.”) is a good one, I just couldn’t finish it. It was quirky and clever and all that, but maybe it was too quirky and too clever, because I found myself bored to tears. In fact, I found myself thinking that the best thing about this was the drawings by Oliver Jeffers. And on that note, I bailed.

In fact, as I was skimming the ending, I was wondering what child — especially middle grade; it’s a bit complex (see the first sentence as an example!) for a 9 year old, and it would be a tough sell for your average 11 year old. It seemed to me that it was one of those books that adults think children should like, but they never do. (Though it also occurred to me that it might make a good read-aloud.)

Well, you can’t win them all, I suppose.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)

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