Wednesday, November 3, 2021


Stuntboy, in the Meantime by Jason Reynolds (Knights Of, 2021)

Reading this book has been an exciting process. Chapter by chapter, I felt that I was reading something quite new. Taking elements of the comic book (it is after all the tale of a superhero!) and the urban fairy tale, alongside Reynolds' trademark-stylish narrative, Stuntboy, In the Meantime is not to be missed. 

Portico Reeves (names throughout reminded me of the improvisational brilliance of Philip Ridley) is the hero of the book, his 'alter-ego' the energetic superhero. We follow his escapades as he solves problems alongside his bestie/sidekick, Zola, battles with his nemesis Herbert Singletary the Worst, and block-parties with the Oldies. Although the narrative whips along, zipping between scenes at a cracking pace, there is a slow-burn, growing fear in the background: Portico's parents are not getting along, separation becomes a potential reality, and the boy's anxiety ('the frets') become increasingly more acute. 

The drawings by Raul the Third are not simply illustrations of Reynolds' story but form a parallel storytelling. It is through these drawings that we slip effortlessly between Portico's real and imagined worlds. We are seeing through the boy's own eyes: on one page, here are his parents arguing relentlessly; a couple of pages later here they are transformed into the 'Super Space Warriors'. In such a way, completely effortlessly, we feel the same pain as Portico as we try to make sense of how these two grown-ups - superheroes to their son - can clash so terribly. 

This book will be devoured by children from Years 5 - 8 as the brilliant story it is. But it would be a shame if you were to miss the intensely immediate language choices with which Reynolds, supreme poet, has garnered his writing. He manages to tap into the very speech patterns that his intended audience use and at the same time turn these to especially original, literary-gold effect: 

His brain started buzzing. His insides started piling and mixing up. His squiggles felt like they were wrapping around his beat box like a boa constrictor. 

And there is the same stream-of-consciousness fluidity in the prose that surfaced in Look Both Ways. Reynolds has this masterful knack of exploring the winding thought processes of children as they try to make sense of the world around them, connecting (and sometimes 'misconnecting') the stuff that bombards them every day. 

But the one thing that bothered Portico about Soup was his name. Why Soup? I mean, maybe he just really liked Soup, which is definitely a good enough reason to name yourself after something. Portico really liked Zola and had sometimes thought about calling himself Zola, but then he figured she wouldn't like it because she didn't even like him wanting to share the Super Space Warriors with her. 

There will be bright recognition and reassuring connection made between young reader and very telling of the tale in Stuntboy

Finally mention must be made of the book as a whole. Knights Of not only serve us the very best in terms of literature and new, diverse voices, but they put books out there that are a pleasure to hold and to read. From the design of the typeface throughout (with its nervous energy matching Portico's own) to the choice of including this unorthodox narrative in their booklist, Knights Of once again show they are the trailblazers for some of the best, most challenging literature currently published. They challenge their young readers whilst at the same time supporting and championing them; in short, they treat children with the utmost respect. 

Fast-paced, hilarious, thought-provoking and dramatically visual, Stuntboy, in the Meantime is an absolute gem of a book from a double-act that I hope will produce much, much more.

Stuntboy, in the Meantime is published on November 4th 2021. With thanks to Courtney Jefferies of ed. Public Relations for help in the preparation of this review. 

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