Published by Walker Books
ISBN 978-1406 32076 3
David Almond delves into the unusual bits of life to get his stories, conjuring tales out of the bits and pieces that most other writers would throw away. His new novel, The Boy who Swam With Piranhas, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, is about a sad boy who runs away, hoping to find happiness.
One of the joys of the book is following Stan Potts on his amazing journey of discovery. It's a glorious comedy written with great humour and love.
Stan lives in a community that was based on shipbuilding, but now the industry is failing, and there is no work. His parents are dead, so he lives with his well-meaning Aunt Annie and Uncle Ernie. Uncle Ernie used to work in the shipyards, but now stays at home all day because he can't find a job.
One day, Uncle E has a brilliant idea. Much to Stan's horror, his guardian turns the family home on Fish Quay Street into a fish-canning factory. Machines clang, dead fish are delivered to the house in crates, and Stan and his aunt are dragged into the money-making scheme.
Stan hates the fish business, but there's nothing he can do. The final straw comes when Uncle Ernie cans Stan's 12 pet goldfish.
So, the boy runs away to join a travelling fair. And it's now that Almond's imagination goes into overdrive, and the story takes off like a thrilling animated movie. Bizarre characters pop up, crazy situations develop, and subplots simmer, ready to boil over at any second. But Almond is in control of every mad moment and surprise, and acts just in time to stop the whole thing whizzing off the page.
Stan quickly adjusts to his new life; and when he meets the piranha trainer, Pancho Pirelli, he finally finds the happiness he has been looking for all his life.
This is a wonderfully written book involving quality storytelling, lively characters, witty dialogue and joyful plotting. The story soars all over the place, and the characters bring a smile to the reader's face. There is a great warmth and affection woven into every page of the story.
It's not a novel concept; there have been hundreds of stories of children running away to find a happier life, but none quite like this. It feels great to read a book that is so deliciously funny and engaging. And even though a great deal of the plot is nonsense, it never reads as such. A kooky and very much off-centre gem.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com