A couple weeks ago, I had my first chance during this crazy year to engage in one of my favorite activities: bookstore browsing. We live five minutes away from the lovely R. J. Julia Books in Madison, CT; Mark dropped me off and took the girls for a stroll (we do bring them with us often, but Mama’s-bookstore-time is a special occasion for Papa-bonding-time); I indulged in a serene ten minutes of drooling over all the new books that have been released since my last visit.
I wandered over to the middle grade section, scanned the shelves. Then...I saw it. It wasn’t even facing out, but it caught my eye and set my heart pounding. I pulled it down and gaped at the cover. Just then, an employee walked by and asked if I needed help finding anything. I shook my head. Obviously the right books were finding me already.
In all seriousness, this is only slightly overdramatized. The book was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again, by Frank Cottrell Boyce. It had happened: someone had finally written a sequel to one of my favorite childhood books. And not just anyone: Frank. Cottrell. Boyce. I know he’s not quite as popular here in the U.S. as in the U.K., so let me put my admiration for his writing into words this way: if someone offered me a fully-paid trip to England to meet J. K. Rowling, I would take it--then I’d get off the plane and take a taxi to wherever Frank Cottrell Boyce happened to be signing books so I could tell him how amazing he is. (He is conveniently signing books somewhere so I don’t have to seem too creepy...) His writing is incredible. You would be hard-pressed to find any MG writer with a firmer grasp on voice, humor or poignancy. (Plus, I think he’s extra cool because he has seven children that he and his wife homeschool--and their field trips involve going with dad on his research trips--how neat is that?)
With those kinds of expectations, the book itself was destined to fall short--but it didn’t. It opened with a first-chapter full of the best kind of quirky characters, unexpected twists, and bucketloads of perfectly-timed humor. And it just got better from there.
One of my favorite aspects about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again was that it maintained the original book’s loving, though irreverent, treatment of family life. Both books are, at their hearts, about family. About the joy of just being together in a world that would tear you apart to your barest bones. About sometimes failing and sometimes succeeding, but always trying to be there for one another. About the difficulty that ensues when a whole slew of individuals are thrown together by nothing more than blood and genes, and how they ultimately wouldn’t want it any other way.
If you haven’t read the original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, you will still enjoy this story. But I’d venture to guess you’d enjoy it more if you did familiarize yourself with Ian Fleming’s original. The two books together would make a great gift for any reader--even a reluctant one--or yourself.