I got Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth by Frank Cottrell Boyce for my birthday, which was way back in April. I love Cottrell Boyce, as regular readers will know, which is why I treated myself as a birthday present, and then I decided to save it. Sometimes when there is a book I know I’m going to love, I save it in a kind of ‘break glass in case of emergency’ type way.
Frankly, it has been a wholly unpleasant year in many ways, hence why I ended up saving it until this last week, when my family and I scuttled off to darkest Wales and holed up on a hillside for a week, eating cake and reading books and shutting out the real world. It was definitely time for Sputnik.
I wasn’t disappointed. Cottrell Boyce is a master story teller. Everything he writes is a joy to read and this is no exception. Prez is a Scottish teenager from Dumfries whose grandfather, who he lives with, can no longer look after him. Prez is sent to a children’s home, and from there to a farm for the summer. When he arrives, Prez is choosing not to talk. Gradually, as he becomes used to the family he lives with, but mostly thanks to the arrival of a mysterious creature called Sputnik, Prez finds his voice.
Sputnik is an alien, but only Prez can see this. Everyone else thinks that Sputnik is a stray dog. Sputnik explains to Prez that he is on a mission to save the earth and Prez has to help him. Prez spends his summer helping Sputnik figure out ten reasons why the earth should be saved, and figuring out how to be reunited with his grandad.
The book is funny and touching and thoughtful. It’s silly and clever and clever in its silliness and it’s an absolute pleasure to read. Cottrell Boyce is fantastic at getting into the hearts and minds of the characters he brings to life on the page and making them believable, even when the most fantastic things are happening to them. I think my favourite thing about all his books is the way he mixes the mundane with the miraculous and finds a way to show you to the heart of what it is important, but without ever being too sentimental.
This is perfect for readers, boys and girls, aged eight and up. It is, as all his books are, wonderful to share as a bedtime read too.