Mom, Dad - if you're listening - you know I said I was going to the South Lakeland Outdoor Activity Center with the school?That's the set-up, in a nutshell. Liam is nearly thirteen, and like most thirteen-year-olds he plays video games (World of Warcraft) incessantly, is sometimes absurdly impractical and lacks the ability to imagine even the simplest of consequences for his actions. However, unlike most thirteen-year-old boys, he is over six feet tall, shaves, and is verbally precocious, so he enjoys pretending to be the father of a friend, a girl his age named Florida, so he can do grown-up things like take cars for a test drive. What he decides to do is pose as his own father to win a telephone-company sponsored contest for a parent-child duo to take a thrill ride in space. Liam and his "daughter," whose brain can do nothing other than remember factoids of celebrity gossip, join three other fathers and their pathologically over-achieving sons in China and eventually fly into space.
To be completely honest, I'm not exactly in the Lake District.
To be completely honest, I'm more sort of in space.
I'm on this rocket, the Infinite Possibility. I'm about two hundred thousand miles above the surface of the Earth. I'm all right . . . ish.
I know I've got some explaining to do. This is me going it.
I lied about my age.
The plot is a direct-lift from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. I didn't mind that, as it is similarly imaginative, but it is recognizable. Boyce gets a lot of comic mileage out of the kid-as-parent premise. Just before leaving home, Liam steals his father's copy of Talk to Your Teen. When he must assume something of a real parental role toward the other children in the story that's when things in this book become interesting. Cosmic has comedy, suspenseful adventure, and even a poignant moment or two in its appreciation of parents (Boyce's dedication is to his own parents) but will this be appreciated by a 12-year-old? Anything that had the message "appreciate your parents and all they have done for you" could be difficult for a 12-year-old to swallow. The laughs too seem very much from the point-of-view of an older observer who appreciates that delicate borderland teens inhabit - partly a child, partly adult - and how clumsy they seem as they transverse it.
My point is that I very much enjoyed Cosmic for its comedy and its wisdom - not only does it suggest that quickly growing young boys may sometimes still need their parents, it is also an appreciation of when children can be wiser than their parents - however I don't know if the book I read would be the same book that a reader of the target age would read. I don't think that 8-12 year olds are too dumb to get this story, but I think they would have read a different book than I, and I don't know what that might be. So find a child of 8-12 and ask them! Finally. I have to say that I found it implausible that the thoughts of a boy of nearly 13 (with a beard) did not stray even once to a subject remotely amorous or carnal. Gimme a break. That aside, Cosmic was a swift-moving adventure with more than a few good laughs and very entertaining for this adult reader.