Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas


The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas by David Almond, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (Walker Books)
HB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781406320763
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Stan has lived with Uncle Ernie and Aunt Annie since his parents died. After the shipyard closes, Ernie reinvents himself with a passion. He turns his home into a fish-canning factory and makes an excellent living. But (DAFT) the Department of Abolition of Fishy Things is determined not to let Ernie escape their net, regardless of the success of his creation. These plans will play out as a sub-story full of comical situations and dialogue, and great laughs.

Stan is a thinker therefore there are many things that he can’t understand. He also feels things deeply. His uneventful life is commandeered by Ernie who has inveigled the boy into leaving school to work on the machines. On his birthday, life-changing events propel Stan towards becoming the person he longs to be.

 It begins when Aunt Annie declares a day off for Stan and hands over some spending money. He wins a goldfish from the hook-a-duck stand at the visiting fairground. Then he rescues the remaining dying goldfish from the owner, Mr Dostoyevsky. Stan immediately feels an emotional bond with the fish that are miraculously able to communicate with him.

Back at the factory, Ernie’s passion is now an obsession and he sees Stan’s goldfish as a new money-making enterprise. While Stan is sleeping, he cans them all except one. This action is the catalyst for Stan’s decision to leave home and escape with the fairground people.

Stan’s unusual dedication to the goldfish has a strange effect on Mr Dostoyevsky and also in time, on his difficult, moody daughter, Nitasha, and on many others of which he is unaware of. There are other sub-stories within which changes are also taking place parallel to the changes in Stan.

When Stan finally meets up with the ageing but famous Pancho Pirelli and his tank of piranhas he realizes the tremendous turn his life has taken. Pancho Pirelli teaches Stan that ‘we can become something special if we put our minds to it’, and Stan proves it by jumping into the piranha tank; a metaphor for overcoming his fears.

The voice of the author addressing the reader at the beginning of each chapter acts as a special effect on the story. The metaphors and allusions weaving through the dialogue add greater substance to the work. Oliver Jeffers’ thoughtful illustrations blend harmoniously with the text and the cover is highly entertaining, just like the book. Poignant and moving, David Almond has again created a work of art.

No comments:

Post a comment

Buzz Words Books would love to hear what you think.