This illustrated novel packs a punch, visually and emotionally. It features the one and only Stuntboy, whose special power is, rather unusually, to help other heroes do their stunts.
This is no fantasy novel, nor is it a generic superhero comic book. Stuntboy’s true identity is Portico Reeves – a young boy who lives in a high-rise block of flats with his parents and his Gran Gran. His best friend, Zola, lives next door and he has lots of quirky neighbours, including Herbert Singletary The Worst (Portico’s nemesis bully). Portico suffers with anxiety (‘the frets’) and in his high rise ‘castle’, adopting his superhero persona helps him make sense of the world.
There is much to make sense of. His parents are fighting a lot, failing to notice Portico’s worries from their position in the ‘mean time’. And then there is the menacing Herbert who seems determined to ruin everything for Portico, no matter how many stunts Stuntboy can use for protection. Portico loves his friends and his neighbours but is worried that ‘the frets’ will mean he will ruin things for them.
It’s incredibly easy to empathise with Portico. Reynolds’ writing is typically simple yet powerful, telling Portico’s story in a series of comic book-like chapters that are all staged in different apartments and corridors of Portico’s ‘castle’. The writing is subversive at times and is full of imaginative analogies that will help young readers understand what it must be like to live with anxiety, and will draw their attention to the fact that, almost certainly, one or two of their own friends will be living with anxiety.
With hidden depths, lots of fun characters and dramatic, original illustrations, the Stuntboy series should be a very successful one.