The Boy who sailed the Ocean in an Armchair by Lara Williamson had been causing quite a stir across Twitter, and one main reason, I admit, I was keen to read it, was because it was clearly eliciting an incredibly emotional response in readers. I enjoy a good heartfelt novel, so I was drawn to it. Also, that front cover is inspired!
I had already bought it when we decided to read it for our online book group @KidLitReaders (join us why don’t you).
I had also read Lara Williamson’s previous book A Boy called Hope, which has just won the Sheffield Children’s Book Award, and i thoroughly enjoyed her unique writing style and intimate storytelling.
I have just finished the book and I’m now sat here wondering where to start. I warn you in advance that this review will contain a short slight spoiler, but I will give you ample warning, so it can be avoided.
The Boy who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair is a story which focuses on the lives of two boys, Billy and his older brother Becket. Their mother has passed away, and so Becket and Billy live with their father and his new partner, their “almost mum” Pearl, a situation they are both quite happy with. One day, however, their father unexpectedly takes them away from their home and sets up a new life for them without Pearl. The brothers, confused and unhappy with this turn of events, set off with Billy’s trusty pet snail Brian, to act as sleuths and discover why their lives have been turned upside down, and to try and bring Pearl back to them.
Lara Williamson has been incredibly clever with this book, it is written from Becket’s point of view, and so the writing is childlike and beautifully honest and simple, yet among this are some very complex topics.
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Firstly, and probably the most affecting to me was the domestic abuse storyline. This is something that we very rarely see in YA books, female on male domestic violence in particular is rarely covered. I do not want to say a lot about it here for fear of ruining the book too much, so I shall just say, that I applaud Lara for tackling this sensitive issue so beautifully. It’s a very important topic, and explains a lot about Becket’s Father and his behaviour at the start and during the story.
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Aside from the above, issues such as bullying and absent parents are addressed in this novel. And perhaps most prominent of all, to me anyway, was the interesting topic of how we as adults address and involve children in our lives. Throughout the book it’s clear that Becket an intelligent and perceptive child, is learning a lot about his father and trying to understand their confusing situation, yet every question is brushed off, every wonder is ignored and disregarded. So the two young boys are left to make their own minds up, come to their own conclusions and, as you can imagine, this generally does more harm than good. In this book Lara raises an important question – in trying to protect children from the truth do we actually, at times, make things worse for them?
This is an emotional read, it really is! There are parts in the story that just make your heart jump and your throat tighten. One such section was incredibly cleverly done, with a single page device used (you’ll understand what I mean when you read it) which grabs you, shakes you up and down and then plonks you back on the ground in a heap. Wow!
It it all sounds quite sad and unhappy, and yes, this is an emotional read. However, it is filled with brilliantly funny and charming moments that lift us away momentarily from the difficult situations the characters are dealing with. Some of the phrases made me really giggle out loud such as Becket Rumsey’s exclamation of “sweet baby cheeses!” Lara’s wit throughout brings the characters to life in an adorable way.
Becket’s growing relationships with his school friends are also delightful to read, as is the bond with his young brother. Perhaps most importantly is Brian the snail, the glue that holds it all together! The constant loss and return of little Brian is so comical and sweet. Do also look out for Cat Woman a fantastically strong character who just completely stole my heart in the end. A lady who exudes pure kindness, with no other motives.
Underpinning the whole book is a lot of wonderful symbolism the fictional tale of the boys sailing the ocean in an armchair, which Becket tells his brother at different points in the book, and the origami paper cranes which become a vital part of the story. They, in particular, have a magical quality, that bring hope and joy to the book and by the end you’re left wondering, but not concerned by, what is real and what is fantasy.
A lovely touch at the back of the book are instructions on how to make your own origami cranes. I followed those to make the cranes in this review. A nice relaxing activity, and for anyone inspired by the story a great way to take it forward for yourselves!
The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair is an incredibly emotional read, all because of Lara’s perfectly crafted characters, writing and storytelling. A story of friendship, love, loss and so much more, touching on subjects rarely addressed. I am incredibly excited to read more of Lara’s work in the future.
As mentioned before The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair was our monthly read for @KitLitReaders, and we had a fantastic discussion of this book, which you can read on Storify here:
– Kid Lit Readers’ Chat
Thank you for sailing away with me on this Book Monster review.