Cymbeline Igloo (yes, really!) has NEVER been swimming. Not ever. Not once. But how hard can it be? He’s Googled front crawl and he’s found his dad’s old pair of trunks. He’s totally ready. What he’s not ready for is the accident at the pool – or how it leads his mum to a sudden breakdown.
Now, with the help of friends old and new, Cymbeline must solve the mystery of why his mum never took him near water – and it will turn his whole life upside down…
Boy Underwater is a middle-grade story that handles a range of fairly heavy themes both sensitively and age-appropriately. Issues of loss, bereavement and mental health weave in and out of the storyline which, even as a reader in my thirties, I became fully invested in. Boy Underwater is an exhilaratingly fast-paced read, ideal for reluctant readers. I found myself reading it in one sitting, desperate to discover the mystery of why Cymbeline’s mother never took him swimming and what contributed to her going “loopy”. I was right there alongside Cymbeline, searching for answers as I raced to finish the book.
Having taught many nine-year-olds myself, I am qualified to say that Adam Baron has done a masterful job with the characterisation of Cymbeline. Incredibly likeable, Cymbeline (which I am still not entirely sure how to pronounce) has just the right amount of cheeky humour, sincerity and innocence. The way he approaches adversity, whether it be accidentally showing his entire class his willy or searching for his missing mum, is entirely believable and is, ultimately, what makes this book so enjoyable.
Adam Baron has created the perfect blend of humour and heartbreak with an ending that leaves the reader reeling. Although an adult audience might find the ending somewhat far-fetched, for its young audience the culmination of the mystery is perfect. Boy Underwater is a book for kids that kids will want to read. As Cymbeline explains himself, small people want to know the real stuff – the stuff that’s bad sometimes – and what better way to hear it than through Baron’s imagination.
Do grown-ups tell you stuff? The real stuff that’s bad sometimes, really bad maybe, all the stuff that happens in life? Real life? Do they tell you the actual truth, or do they try to shove it to one side like an old tent stuffed behind the sofa? Maybe they just tell you some of it. They paint a picture you can live in, a copy of real life, but with stuff left out.