Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Stuntboy, in the Meantime

Reynolds, Jason and Raúl the Third (Illus.). Stuntboy, in the Meantime.
November 30th 2021 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books 
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Interestingly, the copy I have has the pages inserted upside down. No way to change it, so I'll just have to warn students!

Portico Reeves is ten and lives in an apartment building in the city. He considers this a castle, and loves that there are all manner of different people with different stories living behind all of the doors of the complex. His best friend, Zola, also lives there, as does his nemesis, the mean Herbert Singletary the Worst, who constantly verbally attacks Portico and Zola. Portico has a lot of anxiety, mainly because his parents have decided to take two new apartments, one upstairs and one downstairs, and are fighting a lot about what items each will take. Also in the mix are hid Gran Gran, who spends most of her time "resting her eyes", a cat whose names changes daily, and the different personalities in the building. Portico decides to become a superhero, Stuntboy,  to protect the other superheroes in the building, and has a range of moves that he uses to diffuse situations. This happens more and more frequently as his parents' fighting escalates, and are moderately effective in stopping "the mean times". When he and Zola find out that Herbert's step father is the "super" of the building, their relationship changes a bit, and some of Herbert's motives are made clear. Will Stuntboy be able to make Portico's life better as more and more changes occur. 
Strengths: This is a notebook novel more than a graphic novel; think Big Nate chapter books but with more color and page backgrounds, thanks to Raúl the Third illustrations. There's still a fair amount of text telling the story. Portico has a great outlook on life even though things aren't going all that well and he suffers with anxiety. It's great to see him want to take care of his parents and his friend Zola. I think this capitalizes on the way many middle grade chidlren act, but isn't shown in many middle grade books. His stunts are fairly funny, and the cast of quirky characters also add to the general upbeat tone of the book. There's certainly some serious issues that are addresses, and this is a great book to have about the difficulties and stress young people face when parents divorce. There could definitely be a lot more books on that topic. The format is the real winner here, with a great mix of Reynolds' prose and Raúl the Third's graphics. 
Weaknesses: Portico has a lot of Amelia Bedelia misundertandings that felt more like ones a six year old would have. I can understand the motivation for portraying situations that way, but it always seems a bit off, and I'm not sure how readers in the target demographic feel about this style. It does make the book seem like it would be a better fit for elementary readers than middle school ones. 
What I really think: Reynold's work is popular in my library, and it's good to see a Black male character on a notebook novel (Robinson's Jake the Fake and Craft's New Kid are the other good examples; I'm still waiting for Robb Armstrong's Jump Start to beget a notebook novel about Jojo.). I will purchase, especially since the level of maturity of my students has dropped a bit since the pandemic, as it has slowly dropped over the last twenty years. It's always good to see an author exhibit prowess across interest levels, so that readers can continue to appreciate a favorite throughout their reading careers. 

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