Monday 12 May 2014

The Adventures of Stunt Boy and his Amazing Wonder Dog Blindfold

The Adventures of Stunt Boy and his Amazing Wonder Dog Blindfold by Lollie Barr (Pan Macmillan, 2014)
PB RRP $14.99
Reviewed by Dianne Bates
The first sentence in this novel for children aged 8 to 12 years states the book’s premise in a nutshell: ‘Someone was out to get my dad.’ William John Stoked (aka Stunt Boy) is convinced his father, a stunt driver in their family circus, has been set up to fail. At the start of the book dad is lying seriously injured in hospital; Stunt Boy sets out to find out who has sabotaged dad and why.
The first couple of chapters are like the bike Stunt Boy rides – it’s revving up its engine. There is a lot of telling – about the narrator’s sister Jem, his best friend Benny, his dog Blindfold, the Stoked Stunt Circus and the family’s nemesis, Barry Chesterley who runs a circus on the other side of town. The difference in the two circuses is that only humans perform in Stocked, but Chesterley’s circus offers animal acts. Can Chesterley be trying to steal Stocked’s performers and sent dad’s circus broke?
After the slow first chapters where not a lot happens, the book takes off like Stunt Boy’s bike, rip-roaring along with adventures filled with gripping incident after incident as Stunt Boy, Benny and Blindfold investigate strange goings-on. Chesterley proves to be a nasty piece of work, even capturing the two boys and putting them in a cage next to a lion’s den. But, trained by the age of 12 to pick locks, (and to perform a remarkable number of Houdini-like tricks), Stunt Boy is able to release them. All stuff of a boys’ own adventure novel!
One of the things I liked best about this book is its faithful and loving portrayal of Blindfold as boy’s best friend (as well as his human mate, Benny). Blindfold is as real as a fictional dog can be and his relationship with Stunt Boy is convincingly realised. Also helping Stunt Boy in his quest to bring bigger crowds to the ailing Stoked Stunt Circus is Stunt Boy’s hero, the teenage motorbike superstar, Caleb Calloway. But not all – or everyone – is what they first seem to be.
At the heart of this book are the themes of friendship and loyalty set against a very interesting background. It is obvious from her attention to detail and the conviction in this book, that author Lollie Barr has a sound knowledge of circuses and their peoples (in fact, she was once a member of the Spaghetti Circus in northern NSW). The narrative voice Barr gives Stunt Boy is boy-like, full of energy and enthusiasm. As her publicist says, it’s a ‘fresh, funny and exciting new voice.’
It’s likely this book will gain a healthy following, especially among young readers who enjoy real life action with a protagonist they can relate to.

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