Review: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

by Bill Bryson

Copyright 2006


In this travel writer’s memoir, he talks about his life growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, in the 1950’s and early 60’s. He describes what it was like to have acentric parents who worked for the local newspaper: his mother making him pee in a jar when there wasn’t time for him to run upstairs to the bathroom, his father wandering downstairs bottomless in the middle of the night to make himself an elaborate snack. He discusses going to movies and a local cafeteria and other pleasures kids enjoyed back in the day and imagining himself as the Thunderbolt Kid, obliterating bullies and others who made his life miserable.

He makes it clear that as a kid, he didn’t try very hard in school and describes, in great detail, antics he and his friends pulled. He also touches on news of the day including the building of the atom and hydrogen bombs, the campaign against communism, and the persecution of blacks. All his chapters begin with news stories, some humorous, taken from local newspapers and magazines. At the end, he talks about how Des Moines changed over the years since his childhood and what happened to his classmates and partners in crime.

I heard about this book from the Utah State Library for the Blind and Disabled, where I occasionally get recorded books on digital cartridges. They’re hosting a discussion of this book today, and when I read about it in their newsletter, it sounded like an interesting read, which it was. The recording I acquired from the Braille and Audio Reading Download site was produced by Randomhouse Audio and narrated by the author. It includes an interview with Bill Bryson after his reading of the book. I thoroughly enjoyed his narration, laughing at many of his anecdotes.

Okay, call me an old lady or goody-two-shoes, if you must, but I feel this book is a negative influence on young people. I wasn’t impressed with the fact that Bill Bryson often skipped school, though he loved to read. He acted proud of the things he did: standing by while a friend put live insects in his soup at the local cafeteria, bringing the tainted food to the attention of the manager, and gaining them free sundaes. It was funny the first time, but his friend kept doing it until he was caught, and it got old fast. Then there was the time when Bryson forged drivers’ licenses from his father’s checks and let his friend take the rap, not admitting he was the one who did it.

Almost every kid occasionally skips school and pulls a stunt, but this is ridiculous. At one point, I almost didn’t want to finish the book, but I’m glad I did. Despite the fact that he got through high school by the skin of his teeth, barely graduating at the bottom of his class, only making an effort in school to avoid being sent to Vietnam, it’s a wonder he became successful as a published author. I’m sure his high school career counselor, who once said Bryson wasn’t qualified to do much of anything, feels the same way, if she’s still alive.

By the way, my own memoir, My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds, will be coming out sometime this month. I promise there will be no boys breaking into their older brothers’ locked drawers just so they can see naked women in men’s’ magazines. I’ll let you know as soon as it’s available, so stay tuned.


Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

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