Boy Underwater is the debut novel from Adam Baron. Featuring fabulous illustrations from Benji Davies, it has quickly become one of my favourite MG novels this year.
Boy Underwater is a novel that truly gripped me – so many twists and turns that had my heart in my mouth. Baron’s narrative took me on quite the journey, and stayed with me for sometime after.
Meet Cymbeline Igloo.
He is 9 years old, the third best (joint) footballer in Year 4. All totally normal. Except. He has never ever been swimming, and the school swimming lessons are fast approaching. This is all very well except that Cymbeline doesn’t admit this – especially to Billy Lee, in fact he does quite the opposite and boasts about his swimming skills. Oh dear. With Billy Lee having been likened to a purple minion this clearly isn’t going to end well. No spoilers here – I’m going to leave you to enjoy that scene yourselves.
The tone of Boy Underwater begins wonderfully humourous and lighthearted as our protagonist navigates problems that normally befall a typical 9 year old. However. The reader very quickly gets pulled into a more intriguing, serious side to the narrative. Cymbeline’s immediate concern is why his mum has never, ever taken him swimming. Cymbeline lives at home with his mum – Dad died years ago. But. It’s not easy for mum and her mental health deteriorates rapidly. Very rapidly. Especially after the swimming pool incident.
“my mum had somehow got ill. So ill she’d had to go to the hospital.”
… and so the incident at the swimming pool falls in to insignificance as Cymbeline has to navigate relationships with Uncle Bill, then stay with his mum’s sister Auntie Mill, and his cousins Juniper and Clayton. Their world is so completely different from his own – they are submerged in a privileged world of private schools, a large house, and an eclectic carousel of after school activities – his only source of familiarity comes from their neighbour, Veronique Chang, who just so happens to be from Cymbeline’s own school and emerges as quite the ally.
We really feel for Cymbeline as he tries to deal with what’s happened to him, to his close family unit. But this is just setting the scene. The real drive of the narrative comes from Cymbeline’s desire to find out why Mum has never taken him swimming, together with Veronique. They unearth quite the story.