Johnny and the Bomb: The Johnny Maxwell Trilogy, Book 3

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Johnny and the Bomb: The Johnny Maxwell Trilogy, Book 3 Book Poster Image
Mopey in the first half, exciting in the second.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

One of the main characters steals cars and other items. In the past, minor characters exhibit racism and sexism.

Violence

A bomb is dropped on a residential neighborhood and people are killed, a gun is fired at a child, a cat claws people, a girl uses judo on an adult and knocks him down.

Sex
Language
Consumerism

Doc Martens and Tesco (a British market)

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults smoke cigarettes and pipes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that one of the main characters is a marginal delinquent, and this is played for laughs. Also, the central event is a neighborhood bombing during World War II.

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What's the story?

In this conclusion to the trilogy, Johnny Maxwell and his friends -- Yo-less, the sophisticate; Bigmac, the delinquent; Wobbler, the hefty nerd; and Kirsty, the snippy genius -- find an elderly bag-lady sprawled in an alley. After getting her an ambulance, they take home her shopping cart full of stuff, only to discover that it's a time machine. Sent back to 1941 they have to decide if, and how, they should prevent a German bombing that killed all the people on Paradise Street. But even small changes in the past have big consequences in the present, and each decision splits off a new, parallel reality.

Is it any good?

If you like your science fiction to make at least a pretense of scientific sense, Terry Pratchett is not your guy. Even though he references Stephen Hawking and his ideas, the time travel here is more akin to magic, except that even magic follows some rules. There is no attempt at explaining why or how it works, or even having it work in a consistent way -- Pratchett is more interested in using it to propel his riffs on whatever amuses him.

The first half of the book can get a bit tedious, as Johnny and his friends mope and bicker, and Johnny sometimes seems like a candidate for Prozac. Once they have a clear goal, though, the story picks up considerably, and becomes exciting and suspenseful. But Pratchett's fans, while they want a good story, mainly come for his clever British humor, and there's plenty of it here, though some seems a bit more strained than usual. In the Pratchett canon, the Johnny Maxwell Trilogy is easier to read and deliberately provides more to talk about than his other books and series. So, while it's generally weaker storytelling than, say, his Bromeliad or the Tifanny Aching Adventures, it's a good choice for discussion groups.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the paradoxes of time travel raised by the author. What are these "trousers of time" that they keep talking about? How can two different versions of the same event exist simultaneously? How can someone continue to exist after they've prevented their own birth?

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