Once upon a time, I earned a Master's Degree in Literature and was a Professor of Literature and Composition. I had a wonderful time writing my Master's Thesis about Children's and Young Adult Literature, and I considered earning a Ph.D. so that I could continue to pursue the written word, including British, American, Latin American and other Global Literatures, Children's and Young Adult Literature, all types of genres and occasionally even poetry. But life takes you in unexpected directions, and so now I am working for a non-profit agency (you can read about that on my other blog, A Little Bit of Wonder). Although my job keeps me too busy to post as many book reviews as I would like, Recommended Reading is a place where I can continue to share my literary discoveries and knowledge as time allows.

Please note that I post reviews for books that I recommend reading, just like the blog title says. This means that I typically won't post a review for a book that I completely dislike. This isn't because I shy away from making negative comments, but rather because I don't want to waste your time or mine (I won't even bother to finish a book if it's not any good). For more on this, see the explanation of my Rating System.)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Book Review: Boy by Roald Dahl

In You’ve Got Mail, one of my favorite movies, Meg Ryan plays a Manhattan Children’s bookstore owner whose shop is a treasured part of their neighborhood until a chain store moves in around the corner and puts her out of business. Ryan’s character is a sweet, whimsical woman who holds a reading hour for the children in her shop; dressing up in a princess hat and calling herself the Storybook Lady, one Saturday she reads to them a passage from Boy by Roald Dahl:

It was I and I alone who had the idea for the great and daring Mouse Plot. We all have our moments of brilliance and glory, and this was mine. “Why don’t we,” I said, “Slip it into one of Mrs. Pratchett’s jars of sweets? Then when she puts her dirty hand in to grab a handful, she’ll grab a stinky dead mouse instead.” The other four stared at me in wonder. Then, as the sheer genius of the plot began to sink in they all started grinning. They slpped me on the back. They cheered me and danced around the classroom. “We’ll do it today!” they cried. “We’ll do it on the way home! You had the idea,” they said to me, “so you can be the one to put the mouse in the jar.”

Although several people had recommended that I read Roald Dahl’s childhood memoir, I was finally inspired to order myself a copy when I was rewatching You’ve Got Mail just a few weeks ago – and I am so glad that I did! This passage is one of many in Boy that make the reader shiver with the deliciousness of childhood, a subject for which I have a very soft spot. The memoir details Dahl’s idyllic summers spent at home, the horrors of English boarding schools, and several traumatic experiences with doctors in a time before the regular use of anesthetics. Consequently, the reader is constantly experiencing either the elation of adventures in the local candy store, the satisfaction of a perfect day spent swimming in the Norwegian fjords, the terror of several childhood operations, or disbelief at the ways in which British schoolmasters and prefects were allowed to mistreat and abuse the pupils at these fine institutions of learning.

These details aren’t part of any particular plot, but rather a series of musings about childhood – but even so, Dahl had my riveted attention and I finished the 160-novel in a single day. There is something about the descriptions and details of someone’s magical childhood that make me exceedingly happy, and I spent the larger portion of the day with a huge grin on my face (except when my mouth dropped open in shock at the descriptions of the removal of Dahl’s adenoids or the car accident in which his nose is almost “cut clean off!”). I would recommend this novel for most adults, as well as many of the children who are perhaps a bit older and have already read a few of Dahl’s novels. The way in which he tells about them, it seems as though the author had several real-life adventures that are just as entertaining to the reader as his many amusing characters.


  1. I loved this book... it was such a fun interesting read; Roald Dahl really did come across as an entertainer - right from the beginning.

    Glad you liked it too. Got to say though, didn't think Going Solo was that good.

  2. +JMJ+

    This was actually the first Roald Dahl book I read that made me think, "Whoa! This guy is dark!" And it has coloured my reading of his YA novels ever since. (I haven't read his writings for adults yet, but what other readers have told me about them support my impressions.)

    It has been years since I read it, but I recall thinking that he turned himself into the sort of character who'd be right at home in one of his stories. That's the prerogative of every memoir author, of course, but I found it really curious. Did he do that because he knew the book would be for his child readers? Or did he do that because, frankly, his life and feelings are none of our business? =P


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