A white, orphaned British boy whose rare disease confines him to a hospital room dreams of escaping.
“I wish my real world was as big as the one in my head,” 11-year-old Joe says, with good reason. He suffers from Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, which means that stepping outside his sterile environment could kill him. Aside from his older sister, Beth, medical staff are his only company. Beth is leaving for medical school, but he’s got a new, Indian nurse. Eccentric and generous, Amir insists that UFO landings are imminent, and, bizarrely, he provides Joe with a dozen TV screens, installed in Joe’s room without apparent resistance from hospital staff. Skype is a lifeline to Joe’s best friend, Henry, a white, American SCID sufferer. Their chats offer some pointed contrasts of U.K. and U.S. culture along with links to real news articles. When Henry, aided by NASA, receives the opportunity to venture briefly from his room, Joe despairs of ever doing the same. But Amir has an escape plan, which somehow escapes the doctors’ notice. Amir’s outlandish scheme provides poignant, life-affirming moments, but the enormous suspension of disbelief his plan requires is jarring against the occasionally harsh reality of the kids’ conditions, their loneliness, and their families’ pain. However, the feel-good effects may outweigh the implausibilities.
Joe’s room may be small, but his optimistic voice and a cast of supportive characters suggest that his world does not end there. (Fiction. 9-13)