Jimbo and Charlie are best mates, so when Jimbo finds out from his not entirely trustworthy sister that he is in big trouble at school and a transfer to a special school is being considered he takes his worries to Charlie. Charlie suggests bugging the school staffroom to find out what's going on, a brilliant plan that goes off without a hitch. What the boys overhear leads them to break in to a teachers house but then they are threatened and Charlie disappears. When Jimbo is attacked at home and is saved by his sisters boyfriend, Jimbo and his sister steal the boyfriends motorbike and head off to the Isle of Skye to rescue Charlie. What they find when they get there is a transport beam, an alien planet and a spider called Britney.
The members of the school book group that read this book are a mixed sex group of 1st and 2nd years, so ages range from 12 to 14. Generally they enjoyed the book, the relationship between the two boys was believable and they enjoyed the humour in the book - bugging the school staffroom, the alien spider Britney and the light tone of the book. Head of English particularly liked the way the boyfriend was described and the families reaction to him 'He had the brain of a toilet brush. Mum, Dad and I were in complete agreement about this.' The students also commented on the dynamic within Jimbo's family - his father struggling to come to terms with the loss of his job, his mother racing around in her car and the sister who when the chips are down stands by her brother.
When asked whether the book ended as they expected the students said they were completely taken by surprise by the ending, they thought that maybe Mark Haddon did not know how to resolve the story having got the boys to the alien planet - thus the aliens die. The general feeling was that the book was less than the sum of it's parts in that the various elements of the book were done well and humorously but that the ending let the book down. An average score for the book was 7/10.
As I said in my earlier post I suspected that the discussion on the book would run out of steam before the end of the meeting so I had been looking for ways of discussing alien fiction in general. I had found on Youtube the original broadcast of H G Well's 'War of the Worlds' by Orson Welles from 1938. The broadcast is broken into approx. 10 minute chunks on Youtube and the students were played part 2, where a field reporter reports from a farm in New Jersey on what at first appears to be a meteorite but then turns into a death machine with a death ray. Welles had not only turned the book into a play but in doing so had twisted it so that they events of the book were taking place in real time, news bulletins interrupting a programme of dance music.
The students were attentive to the broadcast, they listened to the whole 9 minutes. I then explained how the broadcast had caused panic and showed them newspaper headlines of the time. They did not understand why panic ensued, even when the events of 1938 were described to them. None of the students said that they would have believed what they were hearing, what was marked was how distrustful of modern media they are. Head of English pointed out that with the advent of the spin doctor we had all become more aware of how media can be manipulated. The students had great difficulty in picturing only being able to get news from two sources, the newspaper and the radio, they had not thought of themselves as sophisticated users of digital media to get the information they wanted compared to people in 1938. A good discussion was had with all of the group engaged and contributing to the discussion.
Next months book is 'Jackdaw Summer' by David Almond, again I'll keep you posted!