Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Review: Demolition Dad by Phil Earle

This is the story of Jake Biggs and his dad, George. George spends all week knocking down buildings ... and all weekend knocking down wrestlers. He's the Demolition Man, and Jake couldn't be prouder. But when Jake hears about a pro-wrestling competition in the USA, and persuades his beloved dad to apply, things don't quite turn out the way he expected...

If you were a child (especially one of the male variety) in the 1970s or early 1980s then I can pretty much guarantee that you spent a number of wet Saturday afternoons sat in front of the television watching wrestling on ITV's World of Sport. In these times where the US version of the 'sport' has become a multi-billion dollar industry with fans in every corner of the globe, it is hard to believe that the wrestling heroes of we Brits came from towns such as Halifax, Prestwich and Stoke-on-Trent. And yet, Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks, Kendo Nagasaki et al were all household names in those days, before the WWF came laong and took the world by storm.

Phil Earle was obviously one of those World of Sport loving kids, if his debut book for younger readers is anything to go by. Set in the modern day, it is both an homage to those spandex leotard-wearing legends of UK wrestling and a tongue-in-cheek poke at the shallowness of the big money US version of the sport. I pre-ordered Demolition Dad months ago, as soon as I heard about it, in the hope that it would be another example of the cracking middle grade British comedy stories that I love so much, in a similar vein to Walliams and Dahl, and I certainly wasn't to be disappointed. It is laugh-out-loud funny and chock full of wonderfully engaging and endearing characters, elements that should make this a guaranteed  hit with young readers (aged 8+). 

On top of this it is also a fantastic father-and-son read, mainly due to the fabulous relationship between main character Jake, and his dad, the Demolition Man. Jake idolises his father - it is a relationship that is very reminiscent of Danny the Champion of the World, and it is great to read a book where the parents are caring and spend quality time with their children, instead of being the child-neglecting, self-centred villains of the piece. Jake has his father on a pedestal, and manages to persuade him to take up wrestling, as long as nobody outside of the family finds out. However, Jake is such a fan of his father's performances in the ring that he wants more for him - he wants millions of others to see him the way he does. Of course, this is the first ingredient in the recipe for the disaster that ensues.

And yet there is even more to this than just being a touching father and son comedy story. I don't think it is spoiling things to say that things don't quite work out for Jake's dad when he gets his chance to fight for the big money US World of Wrestling. On his return to his small hometown of Seacross, he struggles to deal with the overwhelming sense of failure he feels, and sinks into a deep depression. Phil Earle deals with this aspect of the story with great sensitivity, and it is this that raises this book from being a great read to being a Powerslam-DaddySplash-Piledriver of a read.

It would be criminal of me not to mention Sara Ogilvie's brilliant cover and interior illustrations before I sign off. They are the perfect accompaniment to Phil Earle's comedic writing voice: they add, in turn, to the humour, action and poignancy of the story as it progresses, and despite the brilliance of Earle's writing, it would be a far lesser book without them.

Illustration by Sara Ogilvie

I hope this is just the first of many books that Phil Earle will write for this age group. I have a strong suspicion that there will be more to come, and perhaps we will even see more of Jake and George Biggs in the future, as the book does finish with the tantalising "(Not) The End...". Demolition Dad is defintely one of my favourite books of the year so far.

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