Johnny and the Bomb. By Terry Pratchett. HarperTrophy. $5.99.
Marley: A Dog Like No Other. By John Grogan. Collins. $6.99.
These new paperbacks provide a less-expensive way to become acquainted with a couple of interesting and enjoyable recent books – although, in truth, Terry Pratchett’s isn’t as recent as all that. Johnny and the Bomb was first published in 1996, but reemerged as a hardcover only last year, and is now available in a paperback version of that hardcover edition. It is the last part of The Johnny Maxwell Trilogy, in which an ordinary-enough boy has some quite extraordinary adventures that take him inside a computer game, inside the minds of the dead (oh yes, they have minds), and finally inside whatever makes time travel possible. Never mind that time travel isn’t possible – Pratchett blithely assumes that it is, and then (in his own unique style) turns this very old science-fiction concept inside out. Johnny is 13 in this adventure (he was 12 in the two earlier books), and a friend from earlier reappears: Kirsty, except that she now calls herself Kasandra. But it is not necessary to know about Johnny’s prior adventures to enjoy this one, which takes him back to the day during World War II in which Nazi bombers missed their target and instead destroyed an entire street in Johnny’s town, killing 19 people. Pratchett takes some elements of time travel lightly, but not its philosophical paradoxes: Can Johnny stop the killings? Should he stop them? While trying to figure out what to do, Johnny and Kirsty/Kasandra meet themselves in the past (well, almost), and find that they have traveled back with several other youths, except that they lose one and – well, that is merely one twist of the plot. Another, and one of the most delightfully peculiar, involves Mrs. Tachyon, whose name would be some sort of clue if only the other characters ever thought of it that way: she is a bag lady who pushes a very strange shopping cart that contains, at least some of the time, some jars of gherkins and a cat with a bent spine and nasty disposition. Pratchett’s trademark humor-within-seriousness (or the other way around) is everywhere in Johnny and the Bomb, and the whole thing makes for an exhilarating ride.
Marley: A Dog Like No Other is altogether calmer and more straightforwardly emotional. It is an adaptation for middle-schoolers of John Grogan’s Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog, a bestseller about Grogan’s life with his yellow Labrador retriever. Oddly enough, children play only a minor role in Marley: A Dog Like No Other, but many dog-loving families will enjoy the amusing anecdotes, the inevitable heart-tugging at the end of Marley’s life, and the optimistic conclusion in which a new puppy seems to contain Marley’s reborn spirit. Still, the book lays on the emotion rather thickly, and some readers will likely find it overdone; therefore, it gets a (+++) rating. It will be best for kids and parents who enjoy tales of canine misbehavior in what appears to be an endlessly supportive, heartwarming environment.