Publication Date: 1 June 2018
Grab your tissues (to muffle laughter and mop up tears) and get ready for one of the stand out reads this year…
It’s that time in Year 4 when Cymbeline’s class are due to start swimming lessons, which is great, or it would be if he’d ever been swimming before. But, his mum has never taken him, not to a swimming pool, not in the sea, not anywhere, ever. He’s googled front crawl, had a practice in the bath, and with his dad’s swimming shorts and goggles, he’s good to go. What could possibly go wrong?
An accident at the pool sparks a breakdown for his mum, and Cymbeline finds himself cast adrift from his normal life, searching for the truth about why his mum never took him near water. A truth that will change everything…
A wonderfully told, touching tale, I devoured Boy Underwater in one emotionally fraught sitting.
From laughter to tears and back again, Cymbeline’s cheeky, chatty voice shines through the bleakness of his story. His naivety at some of the adult behaviour and innocence at what happens around him remind us he’s just about to turn 9, in stark contrast to class mate Veronique, the overly-timetabled child-genius, who appears to be far older than her years. I loved watching their friendship grow throughout the story. While I wanted to reach into the story and hold Cymbeline close, there were times when I wanted to roar at the selfishness of some of the adults around him.
Benji Davies’ illustrations capture both the darkness and loneliness Cymbeline feels at times, as well as his fun, inquisitive nature, and add an extra layer of beauty to the stunning story.
Tackling mental health, family secrets and break-ups, this is tough subject matter for the young protagonist and you, the reader, as his confidant, so although Cymbeline is in Year 4, I would recommend it’s saved for Year 6 and above mature readers.
Huge thanks to Laura Smythe and HarperCollins for sending me a proof copy. I’ll definitely be picking up a finished copy for my school bookshelf!