Book Review

BOOK REVIEW: My Big Mouth by Steve Camden

– Short Review –

Jason Gardner, or Jay to his friends, is in his final year at junior school when his dad suddenly ups and leaves.  None of the family know why, least of all Jay, and, in an effort to cope with the sudden change, he constructs a web of lies to explain his dad’s absence.  However, when the fictional version of his dad turns Jay into the coolest kid on the playground his whole life flips upside down.  He may have made new friends but has he lost his oldest pal in the process?  Can a friendly nudge from his teacher set him back on the right course?
If you like the Timmy Failure books by Stephan Pastis you’ll probably enjoy this

– Longer Review –

Jason Gardner is in his final year at Junior School – in fact there’s only a few weeks left before he leaves primary education behind him for good.  Looming is the end of year talent show and his best friend, Dominic, is determined that they should enter themselves as a dance act (even though Dominic has the coordination of a drunk giraffe).  Jay isn’t convinced but half heartedly goes along with the plan but then his dad suddenly disappears.  One minute dad’s at home spinning his tall tales and then overnight his favourite chair is empty and no one knows where or why he has gone.
Jay is confused and lost.  His mum & sister are whispering together, he feels completely adrift and takes himself to bed for an entire weekend.  Consequently when his teacher, Mr Bukowski, asks him to present his book report at school on Monday he’s done nothing.  A bit of, ill advised, quick thinking sees him spinning a yarn.  A complex excuse involving his dad being a writer who is currently travelling the world researching his latest spy novel.  His dad, who is asking Jay to help him with his research at home.  His dad, who has instantly become the coolest parent on the planet leaving Jay as the equally cool kid in the playground.
The heady success of this lie sees him making up more and more fiction.  The more outrageous the lies the more his popularity soars.  He’s even caught the attention of Danny Jones – the kid who could make the strongest soul quiver with fear.
As it turns out, Danny Jones also has a less than perfect home life and is desperate to help Jay with his research.  He can think of nothing better than getting stuck into his encyclopaedias and producing huge piles of facts about all the countries that Jay’s dad is supposedly visiting.
As his friendship with Danny grows he has less and less time for Dominic.  Less patience with Dominic’s enthusiasm for the end of term performance and eventually, as the pressure of his lies gets too much, he tells his oldest pal the unvarnished truth about his dance abilities.
As his life starts to unravel it doesn’t take long before Danny also discovers the truth about his missing dad.  Before you know it Jay has gone from being the coolest kid in school to being Billy No Mates.
Luckily for him Mr Bukowski has a shrewd idea of what’s going on but can he help Jay recover the situation?  Sometimes telling the truth can be the hardest thing of all.
You can tell that the author is a spoken word artist as this book has a really “chatty” style about it (to the extent that at one point it tells you to “Feel free to take a biscuit break here. I am”).  You really get inside of Jay’s head and his thought processes.  There are some pretty big subjects tackled here – family, lies, betrayal and the struggle to be in the “in” crowd – but it’s all done with such a massive dollop of humour that you can’t help cheering Jay on and keeping all your fingers and toes crossed that things work out for him in the end.  The plentiful illustrations by Scott Garrett just help to maintain the levels of enjoyment and humour.  It’s a really fun debut which will resonate with plenty of kids.
My Big Mouth is published by Pan MacMillan and is available here.

Steve Camden

Steven Camden (Polarbear) is one of the most respected spoken word artists in the UK.

Internationally performing his work since 2007, Camden has graced stages from Kuala Lumpur to California via Glastonbury and The Royal Shakespeare Company. His work has featured on BBC Radio 1, 3 and 6.

A published author, Steven has written three Young Adult novels for HarperCollins: Tape, It’s About Love, and Nobody Real. His poetry collection Everything All At Once was published in July 2018.

As a playwright, Stephen’s debut play Back Down, was produced by the Birmingham REP and toured nationally in 2015. He was co-writer and script mentor on the Akram Khan Company’s Olivier Award winning production Desh, as well as script writer for LIFT festival’s acclaimed production Turfed. His theatre piece Mouth Open, Story Jump Out, received five star reviews and toured internationally. His most recent play, I Knew You, was performed at the Birmingham REP in 2017 and toured nationally.

Steven’s first Radio 4 play, Sleeping Dogs, aired in 2013, and he is developing an original television series with Expectation Entertainment.

Review by Angela Paull

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