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Book Review: Stuntboy, in the Meantime by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Raúl the Third

Publisher’s description

From Newbery Medal honoree and #1 New York Times bestselling author Jason Reynolds comes a hilarious, hopeful, and action-packed middle grade novel about the greatest young superhero you’ve never heard of, filled with illustrations by Raúl the Third!

Portico Reeves’s superpower is making sure all the other superheroes—like his parents and two best friends—stay super. And safe. Super safe. And he does this all in secret. No one in his civilian life knows he’s actually…Stuntboy!

But his regular Portico identity is pretty cool, too. He lives in the biggest house on the block, maybe in the whole city, which basically makes it a castle. His mom calls where they live an apartment building. But a building with fifty doors just in the hallways is definitely a castle. And behind those fifty doors live a bunch of different people who Stuntboy saves all the time. In fact, he’s the only reason the cat, New Name Every Day, has nine lives.

All this is swell except for Portico’s other secret, his not-so-super secret. His parents are fighting allthe time. They’re trying to hide it by repeatedly telling Portico to go check on a neighbor “in the meantime.” But Portico knows “meantime” means his parents are heading into the Mean Time which means they’re about to get into it, and well, Portico’s superhero responsibility is to save them, too—as soon as he figures out how.

Only, all these secrets give Portico the worry wiggles, the frets, which his mom calls anxiety. Plus, like all superheroes, Portico has an arch-nemesis who is determined to prove that there is nothing super about Portico at all.

Amanda’s thoughts

This was another book I sought out as I worked on my article for School Library Journal on mental health rep in middle grade books (look for that March 2022!). As far as I can tell, there are not really a whole lot of middle grade books that address the mental health of boys, period, so when I saw this title, about a Black boy dealing with anxiety, I tracked it down right away. Given it’s written by Jason Reynolds and illustrated by Raul the Third, I figured it would be great. And it was.

Portico has “the frets,” as he calls them. The rest of us would probably call them an anxiety disorder. As someone who has an anxiety disorder with panic attacks, I sure recognized how quickly Portico’s mind would leap from “this thing might not be okay” to “AUGH! QUICK! MOVE! ACT! PANIC!” Portico’s parents are splitting up, something he doesn’t particularly understand until quite far into the book. But all of their constant arguing is taking its toll on him, causing those frets to crop up more and more frequently. He keeps busy and distracted by running around his apartment complex with his best friend, Zola, having little adventures while acting like Stuntboy, a kind of superhero who exists to keep others protected (again, hey there, recognizable anxiety). His building is full of larger-than-life characters who keep things interesting, but underlying everything are those blasted frets, just waiting to get in Portico’s way.

Not only is the story a total hit (and such a necessary depiction of a young Black boy navigating anxiety), but the format itself and all of the art make this exceedingly appealing. This fully illustrated novel includes comic book panels as a story within the story, little commercial break asides, double page spreads, and LOTS of dynamic action. A fantastic read with wide appeal. I look forward to more adventures of Stuntboy!

Review copy (finished) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781534418165
Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Publication date: 11/30/2021
Age Range: 7 – 12 Years

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