The Impossible Boy

The Impossible Boy was written by Ben Brooks and first published in 2019. It is a fantasy story aimed at middle grade readers, focusing on two children who find themselves in trouble when something they created comes to life. The novel stands alone, so you do not need to read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

Oleg Duchownik and Emma Morley have felt a bit lonely since their other friend moved away. This is part of the reason why they invent Sebastian Cole to fool a new teacher. Sebastian is another student at the school, but one who lives a fantastical life. He has his own personal spaceship, a bag that can make anything, and is always off on wonderful (and unlikely) adventures. It comes as a shock to both of them when Sebastian suddenly appears in their den. Not only is he real, but he is able to make the impossible possible.

It’s not long before other strange things happen around town. A goat invades their school and Emma witnesses a horde of snowwomen on the hunt for colder climates. It seems fun at first, but things rapidly become more sinister when mirrored vans and people in crow masks appear on street corners. The Institute of Unreality have been tasked with maintaining world order. They want to capture and erase Sebastian before his existence destabilises the whole world.

It’s not long before Oleg and Emma find themselves on a dangerous adventure to save their friend. Their quest takes them deep into a government facility where all the strangest things on the planet are stored. Will they manage to find a way to save their new friend? Or will his continued existence actually end up destroying the world?

The Impossible Boy was a creative and memorable read, but my ultimate feelings towards it are a bit mixed. While the novel does contain a wonderful message about the importance of friendship and imagination, it also does have its share of problems and I don’t think that it will necessarily speak to everyone. Still, let’s start by taking a look at the positive.

The novel is a very funny and charming piece of imaginative fiction. As the title suggests, it is a story where the impossible can happen. While the story gets off to a fairly ordinary and somewhat downbeat start, Oleg and Emma soon find themselves faced by an increasing array of incredibly things. Boys in cardboard spaceships, immortal cowboys and hot ice cream are really just the tip of the iceberg. As the novel moves towards its climax, the protagonists finally get to see all the really weird stuff that the Institute of Unreality have hidden their base, allowing them to experience all manner of wonderful, impossible things.

However, as creative as The Impossible Boy was, I did feel that this level of surrealism impacted the plot at times. While this is entirely down to my own preference, the novel was a bit too whimsical. Due to this, most issues in the story were largely resolved by a succession of deus ex machinas rather than the ingenuity of the protagonists. Situations are largely wrapped up by coincidences and the most unlikely circumstances. By the time the climax arrived, it felt as though the entire novel was trapped inside Douglas Adams’s Infinite Probability Drive.

The Impossible Boy was also bit of a slow-burner. While it gained momentum in the second half, it took a fair time for Sebastian Cole to first appear. The second half of the story is a lot more exciting, however the climax was not entirely satisfying. The events of the story are never truly explained beyond the fact that a certain celestial event has made the impossible happen. The way that this is resolved is something that I will not spoil for you here, however I will note that it does contain some mechanics that do not entirely make sense.

Still, at least the ending of The Impossible Boy does do a fantastic job of wrapping up all of the loose ends of the story. It even manages to create some happy endings for secondary characters who seemed to be doomed to a life of misery by earlier events in the tale. While this resolution felt fairly blunt in places (for example, two characters who share a bitter resentment from a childhood event make up off-page), it did mean that this novel stood on its own incredibly well. The final few pages went as far as to explain what happened to the protagonists once they had grown up, leaving off on a very positive note.

However, the very best thing about The Impossible Boy was the way that it addressed some very serious topics. Both Emma and Oleg are strong and well-rounded protagonists who come from difficult home situations. Oleg’s father has lost his job and now suffers from severe depression, spending most of his time sleeping and neglecting his son. Emma’s mother is so poor that she has to work two jobs, leading to a lot of their stuff being repossessed and Emma often going hungry. The story touches on these themes very delicately, making clear how they impact the protagonists and their outlooks towards the future. The novel also addressed things like fear of moving on to secondary school and the way that childhood bullying can still affect someone in adulthood.

Yet beyond the protagonists, I did feel that the supporting characters were a bit shallow. Sebastian Cole was massively entertaining but did not seem to have much personality beyond being an impossible being. The ultimate villain was only introduced in the climax and did not really do anything. He was only referred to as the General and was quickly overcome. The General was not the only character to lack a name either. The school groundskeeper is a fairly major character but is just known as the Cowboy throughout the story, while the Scientist’s true name is not revealed until the epilogue. This just felt a bit lazy and made it harder to relate to the characters in question.

I think that covers everything. All in all, The Impossible Boy is a bit of a mixed bag. While the story lacked structure in places, it did carry a sweet message and I think that young readers will love its humour. While it felt a bit shallow at times, I’m sure there are certainly middle grade readers that will get a kick out of this one.

The Impossible Boy can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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