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Johnny and the Bomb by Terry Pratchett

I have really enjoyed Terry Pratchett's books ever since my brother introduced them to me several years ago. They have so many wonderful layers - you may just skim the surface and read with exquisite enjoyment or you can read a little more slowly and discover the layers beneath connected to Mr. Pratchett's many areas of expertise.

One of the central characters in this children's book is Mrs. Tachyon who has a cat called Guilty "with his fur like carpet underlay, broken teeth and boomerang-shaped backbone" and a shopping trolley filled with strangely moving black plastic bags. She is seen as a "bit.... touched", but it transpires that she lives and moves between many "time trouser-legs". If you look up the meaning of her name you find that tacho is derived from the Greek for "speed, swift, fast" and that a tachyon is any hypothetical particle that travels faster than light!

The main character is Johnny Maxwell who suffers from depression. His friend Yo-less (a black boy with no standard "cool" factor, hence no "Yo") says it's not ill to be depressed - if lots of bad things happen to you, it would be mental to go around smiling and saying that things weren't so bad! Another of Johnny's friends is Bigmac whose social worker remembers him as the boy "who wanted to know how many cars he had to steal before he got a free holiday in Africa! Bigmac is also exceptional at mathematics, jumping straight to the correct answer without being able to explain how he arrived there - a talent which is apparently quite aggravating for his teachers. The fourth boy in the gang is Wobbler, who eats rather too well, and not forgetting Kirsty, the only girl, who changes her name every week.

Johnny is self deprecating but turns out to have the vital ingredient in order for this adventure to work - "his imagination is so large that most of it is outside his head." He wondered if there weren't two kinds of stupidity: "the basic El Thicko kind that he had and a highly specialized sort that you only got when you were stuffed too full of intelligence."

So here we have each strand of society represented but each character is not necessarily stereotypical. Another wonderful exchange Mr. Prachett uses to emphasize this point is when the boys are trying to tell a joke to the girl selling the burgers "Make me one with everything" says Wobbler "Because I'm going to become a Muslim!" "Buddhist", corrects Yo-less. The girl chips in, "Buddhists wouldn't have the burger, they'd have the Jumbo Beanburger, or just fries and a salad." They stared at her. "Vegetarianism," she says "I may have to wear a paper hat but I haven't got a cardboard brain, thank you."

The narrative opens in the second world war, with the local bobby (policeman for our overseas friends!) walking the evening streets during a blackout, cadging a cuppa with the soldiers who are (not) guarding an unexploded bomb. They are all horrified to see the figure of Mrs. Tachyon right above the bomb site, scrabbling around in the rubble. The last brick falls and there begins an ominous ticking sound. The story then cuts to the present, where the gang finds Mrs. Tachyon in a heap on the floor in Blackbury High Street with her cat Guilty and her bags in her trolley. She is taken to hospital and Johnny takes care of her trolley and cat, putting them in his garage. He is very puzzled by the front page of the newspaper wrapped around the fish and chips and also the jars of gherkins. They all looked new but Johnny recognized the front page - he'd seen it on microfiche in his library and the librarian had given him a copy to help him with his History project.

When Johnny and Kirsty (now Kasandra) visited Mrs. Tachyon in hospital, Johnny discovered that if you listened carefully to her disjointed ramblings "it was as though he had been listening to a lot of static on the radio and then, just for a second, there was this one clear signal." This helps him enormously when he and his friends find themselves time travelling. Mrs. Tachyon had said that "Where your mind goes, the rest of you's bound to follow." This is vital information for a time machine that has no visible means of activation!

At one stage Johnny and Kasandra find themselves being followed by a big black car, the passenger is... (ah but I won't give the story line away). They grab the trolley to make a get away and in doing so find themselves hurtling down the high street, wheels screaming and smoke coming from the axels heading straight for the traffic lights through which sixteen-wheeled lorries thunder! As they face certain death the air flickers and the traffic lights turn to green - Kasandra is now wearing a mac instead of a coat and they sail through the air with the stares of puzzled drivers fixed upon them. The chauffeur of the black car screeches to a halt as he sees the trolley vanish into thin air! Johnny and Kasandra catch up with the three other boys. This time they all travel through time and so the story really begins!!

I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did - Happy reading!

Contributed by Rosemary Davis

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