Thursday, November 25, 2010

Review: Cosmic

One can identify the intended audience for a movie or book by the gas jokes: hamster gas jokes are written for children, and a "dart" gun that emits a noxious gas (but never uses the rhyming word) was intended for a general audience.

Cosmic follows the same logic.  Rather than play to the lowest common denominator, Frank Cottrell Boyce takes the game up a notch with a boy on the cusp of adulthood who tries to understand the baffling world of dads.

Liam is tall for his age and has started to sprout wisps on his chin, so he often is mistaken for an adult.  Worse yet, he can pass as the father of his contemporary, Florida.  This is a nice problem for a 12-year-old to have when he wants to ride the Cosmic rollercoaster or sit in a Porche — but not as good when the car salesman tosses the conscientious pre-teen a set of keys to said luxury car.  Liam doesn't quite understand how the adult world works, but so far it has proven to work to his advantage from time to time.

Teens are as much a mystery to themselves and they are to their parents.  Liam usually can detect the line he shouldn't cross, but as his world changes, so does the line.  Liam's father wants to allow him to grow up, but he knows the trouble a boy can get into without even trying (see Porche reference, above).  The cellphone they share allows Liam's taxi-driving father to keep an eye on him and step in when needed.  However, fathers are not infallible, and that fact allows Liam to test his wings.  In space.

Cosmic is as much a fable as a novel, with characters exhibiting specific personality traits to illustrate points. However, Boyce throws in some amazing surprises, and readers soon realize not everyone is what they appear to be — especially a pre-teen too tall for his age.

Boyce toes a fine line with his narrator.  Liam tells the story from his own, young perspective.  As a boy on the cusp of manhood, though, he is not tethered to immaturity and the limited perspective and language of a young speaker.  Time and again, Liam's language and observations teeter precariously close to "hamster gas" maturity level — but become more clever and multi-dimensional at just the right instant.  This will engage the younger reader while allowing "older" readers to enjoy it on what I'm sure we all would like to describe as a "higher" level.

This enchanting and clever book deserves to be read, and I heartily recommend it.

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