“Boy” and “Going Solo” by Roald Dahl
Here's a bit of Kevin's Book Bacon in the pan....with a couple of Roald Dahl books sizzling hot!

"Boy" and "Going Solo" tell the story of Mr. Dahl’s life before he became one of the best children’s book writers ever in the history of the known universe. He is very clear that these are not moment by moment, tedious “autobiographies”; they are collections of his most vivid, most enthralling memories.

“...I have tried to be as selective as possible and have written only about those moments that I consider memorable.” -Roald Dahl

“Boy” covers his childhood time in England and in Wales where he attended boarding schools and took family vacations. The parts where he describes experiences with his family are funny and entertaining. In particular, he writes of going to Norway (or Finland maybe?) every summer on a family trip and boating around some fantastic islands. I thoroughly enjoyed these reminiscences and found myself wishing I could see the fantastic Scandinavian places he described.

The parts of the book where he describes his school are interesting because they are so different from what we experience in school here in America. But as a schoolboy in England and Wales, Mr. Dahl spent a lot of time fearing his teachers, headmasters and the infamous cane. So if you don’t want to read about school spankings or don’t want your kids to read in-depth accounts of school children being roughly hit on their bottoms with a stick (caned), you’ll want to skip most of this book.

I found “Boy” to be enjoyable because I truly love Dahl’s writing and I liked reading about his youth since I could clearly see where much of his writing inspirations came from for future stories and characters. But I think you’d have to be a pretty big fan of his to also enjoy this book.

“Going Solo” is much, much better and more entertaining for a wider audience. This book covers Mr. Dahl’s life as he goes to work for Shell Oil Co. and finds himself living in India. His travels to this country and around the surrounding areas are absolutely fascinating. In particular, there are two very detailed stories about deadly snake encounters that are simply riveting. And there’s one about a lion attack on a local native that you probably won’t believe - even after you’ve read it!

“Going Solo” also describes Mr. Dahl’s time with the Royal Air Force in World War II, around 1941/42. The stories he tells here are absolutely superb. Astonishing. Fabulous! He details dog fights with German planes, down times spent with his squadron, recon missions and all sorts of other wartime happenings. He was a pilot in the war so all of his recollections about flying and fighting over Greece and Egypt and other places are fascinating. Even if you have no interest in war or combat or anything related, you’ll enjoy Dahl’s stories because they are written so well and are magnificently detailed.

And it’s this detail and quality of writing that are the true sizzle in these two books. I was constantly amazed by Mr. Dahl’s specific memories and his ability to tell an enthralling tale about a combat encounter he had with a German plane - while mentioning the colors and look of the flowers in the surrounding countryside AND the appearance of the nearby ocean. Furthermore, he lets us know that many of these events (in both “Boy” and “Going Solo”) happened 40 years prior to him writing the books! What a mind he had.

As a reader, you’ll easily find yourself right there in the plane with him, roaring across the skies. Or when he’s in India selling Shell Oil, you’ll bounce along in his jeep and see/hear/smell/feel EVERYTHING as he did. His level of detail is truly remarkable. I suppose he had some letters and journals to go back to, but I also got the feeling that he specifically remembered most of the events and I was constantly amazed by that. A fascinating life, well told in a series of memorable tales, makes for a fantastic read!

Bacon Fat:
As I mentioned before, all of the paddlings and spankings in “Boy” could possibly be slightly disturbing. Though it’s not overly scary or graphic or anything, but he definitely describes bruises, cuts and lacerations on his buttocks and the bottoms of his classmates. Lots of bullying at these boarding schools too, from the older kids to younger kids.

In “Going Solo”, younger readers may not understand and/or care about Mr. Dahl’s war stories. I feel like this book is for older readers or even adults who are fans of him and his work. There are parts where he clearly describes his life being in danger and these moments are impacting for mature readers but would likely be lost in younger ears.

The Crunch:
I’d say these books are strictly for big fans of Roald Dahl and both are probably best left for older readers, maybe age 12 or higher? If you want to share “Boy” with younger kids, then I’d certainly recommend you read the book out loud together so you can discuss any intense parts related to spankings or bullying. “Going Solo” is certainly for high schoolers or adults.

Overall, if you really love Mr. Dahl’s books and particularly his clever, expert writing abilities - you’ll love the level of detail in his memories and how entertainingly he can tell stories about his life!

Happy reading!