Book review: The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket  

By John Boyne (illustrated by Oliver Jeffers)
Published by Corgi
Review by Lesley Finlay

The fact that John Boyne succeeds in writing a book that celebrates diversity and difference without a big lump of cheese is a testament to his incredible skill as a writer. For this book could easily turn into a schmaltzfest particularly as, for this cynical reviewer, it is based on a conceit that is at first difficult to swallow.
Barnaby is the third child of Alistair and Eleanor Brocket and is born with the ability to float; a fact that horrifies his parents who strive to be normal and respectable.
So with a Dahl-like cruelty, Barnaby is cut off by his mother (with the full support of his father) with a simple ‘Look after yourself’ as he floats away into the air. And so, a remarkable journey begins as he meets the first of a long line of eclectic people – beginning with gay hot air balloonists Marjorie and Ethel – all of whom have been abandoned by their families for not being normal.
of course, Barnaby is determined to return home, and his journey home takes him to Brazil, America and outer space; leading to a neat, and satisfying conclusion.
Boyne’s skill as a storyteller ensures our hero’s odd skill is believable; Barnaby is a wonderful central character, an innocent abroad sharing some deep wisdom and universal truths, with charming touches of dialogue and insight.
Helped by the magnificent illustrations by the super-talented Oliver Jeffers, this is a quirky book that will appeal to girls and boys alike.