Boy Underwater by Adam Baron

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Boy Underwater by Adam Baron

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: Though it deals with some dark issues relating to mental health and bereavement, this book manages to be both moving and funny.
Buy? yes Borrow? yes
Pages: 256 Date: June 2018
Publisher: HarperCollinsChildren'sBooks
ISBN: 9780008267018

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Cymbeline Igloo (yes, that’s his real name!) is nine years old, and he has never been swimming, and this wouldn’t be a really big problem except for the fact that the school bully has somehow got the impression that Cym is actually an amazing champion swimmer, and has challenged Cym to a race at their very first school swimming lesson! He tries to research swimming on the internet, but there’s an accident at the pool that, initially, sees Cym embarrassed in front of the other kids, but that results in his mum having a breakdown. Why has she never taken Cym swimming? And why does his accident at the pool create such devastation in Cym’s life?

As I started this book, I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy it. Cym felt a little too laddish somehow, and the use of all caps and font changes in the writing gave it a loud, rather busy feel, so I wondered if there was just going to be a lot of shouting throughout the novel. Fortunately, a few chapters in, I settled into the style, and once that happened, I found it a very good and gripping read.

The book deals with lots of different, very serious issues such as bullying, family secrets, mental health and bereavement. Given the list of issues, you’d expect it to be a rather dry, difficult read, but the themes seem to sneak in and out of the story, so that the subject matter is never too much in your face. There is, nowadays, much more awareness around mental health issues but still, it is an extremely important issue to talk about, and to be open about, especially with children so that they don’t find it scary. It does get quite dark and difficult - Cym has to go and stay with an aunt who isn’t particularly gentle and understanding. She also seems to be dealing with some of her own, rather grown up issues and she has little time or patience for Cym. He is suddenly all alone, and doesn’t really understand what’s going on.

I did wonder if the book would actually help a child going through something similar? When Cym is obviously struggling, and a teacher checks if he’s okay or not, Cym doesn’t speak up or ask for help. He also sneaks out of his auntie’s house during the night and heads back to his own home which, whilst understandable, wasn’t exactly a safe example for children reading the story. I also felt that, at times, the author wasn’t quite sure if he was writing a book for children, or writing a book for adults. The side story of Cym’s aunt and uncle’s problems felt more like a grown-up story than one for those in Year 4, as did parts of the resolution of the mystery. And when Cym’s child-genius friend solves a complex financial problem for Cym’s Uncle I again wondered what was happening with the story, and quite who it was meant for.

These are just small issues, however, and overall I felt the book was a really good read, as well as managing to be moving and funny. The mystery strand is intriguing (and I hadn’t figured out what had happened), and Cym really grew on me, as a character, through the book. Some of the humour is a little childish but it is, of course, the sort of humour that children like. My own little boy has just entered that phase in his life where he thinks it’s fall on the floor hilarious to make farting noises with your armpit, and so I’m sure parts of the story would encourage a few sniggers amongst those of a similar nature! I also think, though, that the book would make children think - about art, and about friendship, and about what happens when someone’s family falls apart, and thinking about those things, and talking about those things, is definitely good.

Generally it felt easy to read, and there are some illustrations through the book that quietly support the story, which would help any struggling readers. I imagine it’s aimed around the older primary school, early secondary school age range though personally, I found it a gripping read and I’m a lot older than that!

Further reading suggestion: You might also enjoy Bubble Boy by Stewart Foster

Buy Boy Underwater by Adam Baron at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Boy Underwater by Adam Baron at

Buy Boy Underwater by Adam Baron at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Boy Underwater by Adam Baron at


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