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Liam explains, via flashbacks, not only how he comes to be lost in outer space with a bunch of other children, but why one of those kids calls him "Dad" --- which makes for quite the delightful and riveting read. Liam, who associates skills he learns playing World of Warcraft to real-life challenges, is unusually tall for a 12-year-old and is sprouting whiskers. Given the fact that he is not at all averse to lying about his age, he has enjoyed situations where grown-ups believe he, too, is an adult.

For example, on Liam's first day at a new school, the headmistress assumes he is the new media studies teacher (and introduces him to the student body, resulting in a hilarious scene). Then there's the time he almost test-drives a brand-new Porsche to the delight and horror of his classmate, Florida. But Liam's grandest adventure as an "adult" turns out to be both exhilarating and terrifying, as we find out immediately when Liam begins recounting his tale by leaving a message for his parents informing them that he is on a rocket named Infinite Possibility and that he (the token "adult") and four kids are doomed to die in outer space.

How does this happen? When Liam has a chance to win a ride on The Rocket, billed as “The World's Biggest Thrill Ride,” he must masquerade as a dad. He talks Florida into posing as his daughter…and he actually wins the contest. Imagine Liam's surprise when The Rocket turns out to be an actual blasting-off-into-outer-space rocket. An upcoming rocket ride for the children of the dads who have won the contest is a bit of a stretch for Florida, whose main interests lie in TV shows such as “Celebrity Séance” and “Celebrity Dental Check.” Yet, even as she continues to confuse Buzz Lightyear with Buzz Aldrin, Florida develops an interest in gravity as the future astronauts train on the "Vomit Comet" and "The Vortex." But nothing keeps them from eventually becoming lost in outer space, with no hopes of rescue.

This is also a story about the bond between children and parents, in a subtle yet heart-tweaking way. It explores both the connection between Liam and his parents, especially his father, and the unexpected emotional link between Liam and his faux daughter, Florida. Liam, feeling hopeless inside the rocket, ponders the times he has gotten himself into more humdrum jams (at least relative to being doomed to die in outer space) when his father has appeared just at the right moment. When Dad interrupted his Porsche-driving adventure, Liam had to admit he was relieved. But he knows Dad cannot save him this time. Frank Cottrell Boyce’s descriptions of Liam's parents are loving, but also realistic and amusing (Mom can find danger in any situation; Dad believes he can fix any problem by turning the power switch off and then on).

COSMIC is somewhat reminiscent of Roald Dahl's CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (without being one bit derivative) and is surely a new classic. This book has everything: an endearing and self-deprecating main character, a wild and exciting plot, ominous suspense, tons of humor, and a plethora of heart. In fact, if it's not on the top of my personal favorite books of 2010 list at the end of the year, I'll eat my Birkenstocks.

Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on June 14, 2011

by Frank Cottrell Boyce

  • Publication Date: June 14, 2011
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Walden Pond Press
  • ISBN-10: 0061836885
  • ISBN-13: 9780061836886