Boy Underwater is brilliantly funny, unexpected and deeply moving. The plot is likely to bring both tears of laughter and of sadness, and also had me gasping out loud in places too. The book has been awarded the sought-after title of Waterstone’s Children’s Book of the Month for June 2018 and I'm recommending it for Y6+.
Cymbeline and his classmates are ready for their turn to start swimming lessons and most of the pupils are really excited to dive in. But Cymbeline has never been swimming before and the more he thinks about it the more he realises that his mum has actively avoided going to the swimming pool or the seaside. Not wanting to lose face in front of his classmates, Cymbeline googles front crawl, borrows Dad’s old swimming shorts and has a practice in the bath. A sound plan, thinks Cymbeline, until he is unexpectedly pushed into the water at the pool and his whole world begins to unravel.
Little does Cymbeline expect that Mum’s reaction to what happens at the pool might lead to her being isolated in a special hospital, nor does he anticipate the family secrets that begin to rise to the surface. With the help of old and new friends, Cymbeline races against time to uncover the truth about his family and to get Mum back home.
Cymbeline's narrative voice carries a mixture of cheeky humour, sincerity and a level of naivety that makes him hugely likeable and has the reader rooting for him from the start. Although Cymbeline is just nine, the book is most suitable for readers a few years older as it is tremendously sad in parts (as always I suggest reading it first to assess suitability based on your knowledge of the pupils in your classroom) and the narrative touches on some difficult topics including mental health, domestic abuse and family separations.
Adam Baron has masterfully created the perfect blend of humour and pathos, and (without wanting to give away any spoilers) the twists and turns in the plot are simply brilliant and I never predicted the ending. This is a stunning and entertaining narrative that leaves an impact long after you close its pages.
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