This is a quirky, offbeat tale about pursuing your dreams, with fish – yes, fish – at its heart.
Stan’s Uncle Ernie hits the buffers when the shipyard shuts – he loses his job and, soon after, the plot. He frantically tins fish in their terraced house, convinced that ‘Pott’s Spectacular Sardines’ are exactly what the world is waiting for. But Clarence P from the Department for the Abolition of Fishy Things (yes, that’s DAFT) has other ideas and closes him down.
Meanwhile Stan, who shares his Uncle’s fascination with fish, is transfixed by the prizes on a stall of a passing circus – beautiful goldfish. He is drawn to them, captivated. He follows the fish and the circus out of town and away from crazy Uncle Ernie.
It’s a book chock full of eccentrics: Seabrook, goldfish supplier and faux gangster who actually just craves a cup of tea and a natter; Peter, a miserable circus act who hasn’t laughed for twenty years; Dostoyevsky, Stan’s saviour, who has been running the hook-a-duck, man and boy; and Pancho Pirelli, the famed piranha-swimmer who claims to be from Orinoco.
There is a wacky, cartoonish tone to the book – it could almost be a comic strip in the Beano or the Dandy. The offbeat humour and slapstick will appeal to children a few years younger than those who are reading Skellig or My Name is Mina. The Boy who Swam with Piranhas rattles along at breakneck speed – it’s hard not to enjoy, even if the story lacks the subtlety and depth of Almond’s more successful novels.