Johnny Nothing – Book Review
This particular review is quite a departure from my usual ones in that it’s of a children’s book.
I chose this particular book for a number of reasons: one, because the author had mentioned on his blog that he would appreciate some reviews of it, but also because I happen to have a four year old grandson who, as the years pass, will be reading progressively more demanding books, and since it’s part of my job to read to him at the moment (it’s in the ‘granddad’ job description title), I’d like to think when he starts choosing and reading his own books, I’ll at least be able to recommend something I think he’ll like, and come the time if he’s anything like me or his dad were, this will definitely be such a book…
Ian Probert is a successful author and journalist, and blogs at: http://ianprobertbooks.wordpress.com/
Johnny Nothing, by Ian Probert (available in both eBook and print formats from Amazon)
Johnny nothing is a book that I think any child (boys mainly) in the nine to thirteen age bracket will really enjoy. It pokes lots of fun at grown ups and all the things we take seriously and think are important, and addresses all the topics that parents might squirm in embarrassment at, but which will have children in fits of giggles and laughter.
It’s basically about a young boy from a very poor background with rotten parents,’ who unexpectedly inherits a million pounds, but as in all good stories there’s a catch; if he can return a year later with even as much as one penny more than the million pounds then he inherits ten times that amount. Needless to say, his less than ideal parents prefer the idea of an immediate spending spree, and Johnny being only twelve, is initially powerless to stop them until… and that’s where the story really picks up.
Written in a very conversational style, the reader almost feels like they’re being ‘read to,’ almost to the point that the young reader will almost forget that they’re the one doing the actual job of reading. The characterisation is nothing less than superb; in a way that only a child of a certain age can do (and the author), every character is hugely exaggerated to the point of comic absurdity. There’s lots of potty humour and playground language that young boys will revel in, and a couple of occasions when the author conspires with the reader in a little naughtiness by writing bleep bleep bleep, something that boys will find very funny, thinking that they’re reading something rude (without actually doing so), and a reference to a competition form in which the reader is asked to write swear words to send to the Prime Minister in order to win a prize. There’s also an amusing running theme telling kids not smoke, not to drink, and finally, not to… rob banks, but all done in a way that’s more likely to make them take notice than any number of serious lectures.
The author also very cleverly explains about sub-plots being like little stories inside bigger ones. What was also very clever about the way this book was written, allowing for the fact the attention spans of younger readers will vary quite a lot, there are lots of obvious but very clever word plays that kids will be both distracted and amused by before returning to the main story, as well as some amusing satire such as when a shop assistant has to call Mumbai just to get permission for Johnny to charge his phone, but has to agree to be put a mailing list, and lastly, some great analogies that readers at the upper end of the target age group are likely to pick up on:
“…like journalists who pursue celebrities on their way to the top…
…like celebrities who pursue journalists on their way to the bottom…”
Although a children’s book, the author does touch on some adult themes, i.e. death, abusive parents, greed, gluttony, and a host of other adult vices, but does so in a way that children will accept without being bothered by; there are definite echoes of Roald Dahl here, but not in a way that tries to emulate him. My only rather minor concern would be for readers outside the UK, where some of the topical references are a bit UK specific and might get slightly lost, but other than that, this really is a first class exceedingly funny book that boys, and I suspect some girls too, will absolutely love from beginning to end, stretching and amusing the imagination in a way that will leave them wanting to read more…
Further Links to some of Ian Probert’s published works: