That Time I Got Kidnapped is the second novel by Tom Mitchell, the author of the hilarious How To Rob a Bank. Mitchell has written a narrative with a real American vibe to it and his travels through the country really come across strongly. Places and people are full of authenticity as are modes of transport (I do raise issue with the Transportation Solutions lady about Greyhound buses and their punctuality and her claim that, “Sometimes they even arrive ahead of schedule.”) Never has this happened in my experience. In fact, I got stuck in Quartzsite on my way to Flagstaff as my bus arrived late and I missed my connection but that’s a whole other story.
That Time I Got Kidnapped is a real coming of age story that is played out perfectly through an adventure of mishaps and hi-jinxes across the US. Particularly relevant for both boys and girls who are 11+, this book is all about friendship and self-discovery. The book deals with the complications of new relationships between girls and boys and makes light-hearted fun of all those awkward moments. It is about finding enjoyment in different things and learning that sometimes it is OK to break the rules. Ultimately it is about a teenager allowing himself to be a teenager and learning that getting into trouble is all part of the journey. Sometimes, “The wrong decision is the best decision.”
When fourteen-year-old Jacob wins an all expenses paid trip to Hollywood, Los Angeles, to star as an extra in the latest Marvel movie, all his dreams have come true. Accompanied by a pink suitcase with the word Princess emblazoned across it in glittery white writing, he is all set to leave Heathrow and seek fortune and glory in America. With the reassuring words from his mum and dad of all the things he is not to do on the trip ringing in his ears, particularly the one about not missing the connecting flight, what could possibly go wrong?
After the obvious happens and with what his sister has dubbed ‘snowmageddon’ looming, Jacob finds himself alone and stranded. With time an ever-pressing issue (there’a a movie scene to film in less than 48 hours) and taking inspiration from PROACTIVE MAN, Jacob finds himself aboard a Greyhound bus to Los Angeles where he meets Jennifer. What should have been a long but simple cross-country journey along Route 66 takes a dramatic twist as Jennifer is somewhat of a wanted girl, with both law enforcement and The Cowboy after her, and during an unscheduled stop the duo are required to make a hasty kerbside exit.
With Jacob now Jennifer’s reluctant sidekick, the duo find themselves on the run, Bonnie & Clyde style, as a high stakes game of cat and mouse is played out across America involving plenty of close calls, a trio of UFO enthusiasts and some singing zombies.
It’s easy to say that a book had you hooked from the first page but this one genuinely did, and here’s why…I am Jacob - or at least for the first page anyway. Like him, I worry too much and I’m addicted to watching videos of aviation disasters, Air Crash Investigation being my show of choice. Mitchell has created two really likeable protagonists who will be very relatable to young readers. Jacob, who by his own admittance is a worrier and a bit of a loser, is figuring out the ways of the world for himself. His nervousness and unease at being alone with a girl are classic teenage boy and I was laughing out loud amidst the cringing. Jennifer is the teenage rebel - the rules don’t apply to her and she has an answer for everything. I particularly liked that for all her brash actions and confidence, there is this fragile girl who really does seek support from Jacob, even if he’s not always the best at providing it.
The dynamic between the two is great and their bond strengthens as the trip progresses. I liked that Jennifer was constantly making jibes and laughing at Jacob’s misfortune as this is so relatable to what good mates do. Throughout the narrative there are numerous times when Jacob mulls over his options about what to do next but he always finds an excuse to stay with Jennifer - for causing her non-injured wrist, that she’s kidnapped him - as deep down you know that he actually just wants to stay with her. I also liked how Jennifer plays on Jacob’s vulnerability and how it shows the lengths we will go to for someone else.
Mitchell writes with a great awareness of his target audience and is ‘down with the youth of today’. There are enough references to emojis, YouTube, Marvel, Snapchat, Twitter, WhatsApp, Netflix, Instagram and GIF’s to convince even the most reluctant reader that this is a ‘lit’ book to read and that the author knows what he’s talking about. I must admit that I did feel out of the loop on a couple of occasions as Mitchell uses acronyms that are just not part of my vocabulary. FTW, PMA…anyone?
Recommended for 11+.