Saturday 15 August 2020

Brain Freeze


Brain Freeze by Oliver Phommavanh (Puffin Books) PB RRP $14.99 ISBN9781760897147

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Author of numerous popular children’s novels, Phommavanh presents his first collection of ten short stories featuring characters who are all finding a way to step up and be brave. The book starts with ‘The Boy with 1 000 Names’, set in the future about a boy who has no idea if his first name, Joel, is going to be his name tomorrow. This is because parents are allowed, using a phone app, to change their children’s names at will. At first Joel’s parents use conventional names, but then they get creative, calling him ultra-weird names, even names using emoticons. The frequent changing of his names results in the boy with the ever-changing names to have to wear a sticker label with his name for the day on it. 

Other stories in this collection are just as outrageous and inventive as the first. Children who enjoy humour, can read about the first dog on Mars, a ghost writer, a man who lives on Slaughterhouse Road, and stories titled ‘Chess Nuts’, ‘Quaranteen’, ‘Double Bed Dreams’, and ‘Sweet and Sour’. The title story, ‘Brain Freeze’ starts with two boys eating slurpees when one sets up a dare that if his friend Alek gets a brain freeze, he owes him lunch for a week. Alek counter-dares saying, ‘If I drink them all without getting one (a brain freeze), you have to pour the whole slushie down your shorts.’ With such a set-up, there’s no doubt the children reading this story will want to continue.

It’s a long while since the publication of a collection of short stories for children which are zany and funny, probably not since the books of the legendary Australian writer Paul Jennings. 

Phommavanh’s stories are wacky, with heart and humour, and likely to be enjoyed by children aged 8+ years.

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