By Nancy French
It's hard to be a kid.
But it's interesting to be a kid who can pass for an adult.
Twelve-year-old Liam is tall for his age and recently began prematurely growing facial hair. An only child, and "officially gifted and talented," his only friends are online players of World of Warcraft -- a virtual reality that allows him to fit in physically with everyone else... and have adventures.
Though his physical awkwardness cripples him socially, it has some advantages. For example, he got to ride as an adult on carnival rides, he almost got to test drive a Porsche, and even passed for the guidance counselor at his new school... until he got caught. In fact, he always gets caught and dragged back to his normal, uneventful childhood.
Liam applies for -- and wins -- the opportunity for a father-daughter trip to a brand new amusement park in China. After convincing his friend Florida to pose as his daughter, he grabbed a book called How to Talk To Your Teen (from his dad's nightstand to be able act "dadly") and heads off for his real life amusement park adventure.
But, it's no amusement park after all. In fact, through an amazing plot twist, he ends up as the guest of an unethical corporation planning to profit from commercial space travel. But first, they need to test it out on normal folks. That's how he ends up on a secret Chinese rocket -- the only "adult" who's supposed to be supervising the excursion.
I don't have to tell you that things go horribly wrong. Actually, the whole book is written as a letter to his parents, explaining his whereabouts:
Mom, Dad -- if you're listening -- you know I said I was going to the South Lakeland Outdoor Activity Center with the school?
To be completely honest, I'm not exactly in the Lake District.
To be completely honest, I'm more sort of in space.
This is a funny book. We read it aloud to our kids (an 11-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy) and sometimes all of us were laughing out loud at Liam's antics and various philosophies. But the book also says a great deal about the universe, man's place in it, and fathers. At one point in the book, Liam participates in a "Best Dad" contest, voted for by four child prodigies, as he tries to fake what "good fatherhood" might look like.
Author Frank Cottrell Boyce has seven kids, so he might know a little something about being a dad. Recently, he told The Times that, "The best novel about fathers ever is To Kill a Mockingbird. You think your father is some bumbling old man, and you discover he's Atticus, he's the hero-dad. Liam knows his dad will bail him out. You never feel like you're doing a great job, you think you've got to be flawless, but the most you can do is to be generous and loving and just there."
This books touches on some deeply meaningful topics, and you gamers might appreciate that Liam has found a way to translate his Warcraft successes into his actual life. But mostly, it's about how "grownupness is wasted on grown-ups."
And this issue (coupled with down-right hilarity) makes this book truly, to use Liam's favorite expression of appreciation, cosmic.
This article was first published by SixSeeds.tv and is reprinted with permission. SixSeeds seeks to inspire and equip family-based giving to those in need. Visit SixSeeds.org and SixSeeds.tv for parenting ideas and articles.
Nancy French is the author of Red State of Mind: How a Catfish Queen Reject Became a Liberty Belle. She began her writing career as a Philadelphia City Paper columnist tackling many subjects with a light, humorous touch; her articles have appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, The New York Sun, Newsmax, the Philadelphia Daily News, and National Review Online.
3/5/2010 5:00:00 AM