A thought-provoking children’s debut that is likely to divide readers. Five stars for the right reader but don’t give this book to those who crave plot-driven fiction.
Eleven year old Joe was born with a rare condition that means he has no immune system and, therefore, no resistance to the germs that surround us in our daily lives. The result is he’s spent his whole life trapped in a bubble – a small room in the hospital where the air is filtered and temperature and air purity is constantly monitored. His only escape is through his dreams of being a superhero and, unless something changes, it looks like he’ll never get to see the outside world for himself.
The writing in Bubble Boy is impressive and it’s easy to see why author Stewart Foster received so much attention in 2014 when his first novel – an adult story We Used to Be Kings – was being launched. Every word is perfectly crafted to succinctly give the reader an insight into either character or setting and the dialogue is tight and believable.
Stewart Foster has a real ability to get inside the heads of his characters, opening them up to the reader so we can empathise with everyone from main character Joe to the shadowy characters Joe observes on his CCTV screens. I found older sister, Beth, and ever dependable nurse, Greg, the most appealing but couldn’t help smiling every time Amir arrived through the transition room and started talking about the aliens landing.
This strong characterisation is essential as this is very much a character driven story with a plot that unfolds very slowly. The pace really picks up in the last third of the book and the twist at the end is one of the best I have read in a while. The publishers are using a tag line drawn from the book – Not all superheroes wear capes. For most of the book I was convinced that this refers to Joe and the heroic way in which he lives with his condition. It is only at the very end that this assumption was turned upside down and I realised this tag-line has another meaning. I’d love to tell you more but to do so would spoil your enjoyment of the book.
Having summarised all the positives, I now need to add an important warning. This book is likely to strongly divide opinion. For many readers, this will be one of the best – the most moving and thought-provoking – books they read this year. For these readers 5 stars won’t be enough. However, another type of reader – those looking for a plot-driven story – are likely to have the opposite reaction. These readers will find Bubble Boy heavy going as very little actually happens until the final third of the book. It’s, therefore, wise to consider what type of reader you or your child are before purchasing this book.
If they enjoyed this, younger readers should definitely read the fabulous Wonder by R J Palacio while teen readers should make sure they don’t miss The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.
Publication date: May 2016
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s UK
Author: Stewart Foster
Review first published on The Bookbag