This book is snortingly hilarious, so many times I was laughing so hard I was basically ordered to read aloud what had tickled me so much by others in the room.
The Super Miraculous Journey Of Freddie Yates is so beautifully bittersweet in that it captures all the pain and love and self-doubt and fierceness of what it means to be on the cusp of adolescence.
I’ll come back to this later but this book can be summed up beautifully by-
“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?”From Stand by Me (1986) -though we have to take liberties and change the age to 11 for this book!
On the last day of primary school Freddie Yates goes home to his dad and discovers his grandmother has died.
Ok, stay with me because that DOESN’T sound like the beginning of a funny book but it is.
In the days after he discovers a letter from his grandmother including his birth certificate; you see Freddie’s dad isn’t his biological dad, that guy left Freddie’s mum pregnant but Freddie’s dad picked up the pieces, well sort of because then his mother died in childbirth (I promise you it gets funny)
So there’s Freddie, eleven years old and has just lost his last known biological relative…. And is given the gift of his biological father’s name, and he tells his two best friends that he plans to go find him.
Cue an adventure to regale for years to come as the boys jump a train to Cardiff, a bus to Barry, take part in an onion eating contest, find stolen jewels on a boat, dress up as superheroes and run around the Welsh countryside trying to track down Freddie’s dad before Freddie loses courage, Charlie has to go to Vegan camp and Ben has to go to Disneyland with his dad and mean stepmum.
The characters are sweetly and lovingly drawn with depth and a kindness to the boys’ vulnerability and the children they are as much as the funny banter. Freddie’s rationality and obsession with facts has a dash of Adrian Mole about it but with a whisper of the harmless utter innocence of Father Dougal Maguire when he gets it so desperately wrong like guacamole being the reason his Grams drove into the War Memorial, though I think possibly the funniest misunderstanding is later in the book with Charlie’s heartfelt gospel on the miracles of Jesus- as a former Catholic school girl I was HOWLING. It’s possibly even funnier than the Sermon on the Mount (The Beatitudes) scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
The vulnerabilities and sensitivities of the boys are beautifully and lovingly explored to differing degrees and we peel further back through the book to see how the problems are not quite as simple as they may first appear, that the target or symptom of frustration isn’t necessarily the root cause of the pain. Indeed it is a journey of the heart, mind and soul that the boys undergo alongside the madcap adventures, to discover what is truly important.
There is no way I can review this book without calling it THE British Stand by Me in so many senses.
From the characters with Freddie reflecting the grieving but still hoping Gordie (Wil Wheaton) Ben who seems to be taking River Phoenix’s Chris as the cool guy who is secretly hurting and Charlie amalgamating Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell’s tactless ‘mouth’ Teddy and mollycoddled chubby boy Vern respectively.
But more so for the fact that it explores the vulnerability and the complexity of being a boy stuck between childhood and the rushing onslaught of adolescence and having an adventure with your friends that brings those things to a head- here captured as a few days in the summer between primary and secondary school.
There aren’t many modern books that I can name off the top of my head that really explore it as raw but safely like this, and indeed The Body by Stephen King (which Stand by Me is based upon) is really a short novella for adults on the nostalgia and bittersweet zeitgeist of taking the step between child and teen, the ‘coming of age’ as an actual rite of passage, an experience that is largely denied to children today.
I absolutely love The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates for that value alone, the trials and problems the boys have to solve depending completely upon themselves, their wits and instincts and each other especially after their phones take a dip in the sea ( a beautiful and totally believable way to deal with the 21st century tech dilemma!)
As someone who has watched Stand by Me many many times, it was wonderful to see something take that spirit on- from the sense of adventure, the arguments, the growth and the failures, the danger and the home truths… even with a slightly less gross eating contest (thank goodness!!) but with an undeniably British twist of self deprecating humour and a Clean ‘Carry-on’ sense of madcap mistakes and coincidences and the MOST beautiful childlike misunderstandings and misinterpretations of things.
So, don’t just take it from me, please please please read it. Freddie and his friends will make you sigh, laugh (likely to snort!), cry (possibly with big shaky sobs) and wistfully wish you could just grasp that same magic, whether as an adult again, or as a child, that you may have such memories and adventures.
My proof copy. sadly did not come illustrated but this is certainly one to get as the preview illustrations online are just EPIC. Check out Jenny’s tour this week, and come back and see me on Sunday when I have a special guest feature for your own adventures!
The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates by Jenny Pearson and illustrated by Rob Biddulph is published by Usborne on 30th April 2020
Thank you to Usborne and Fritha Lindquist for my copy 💜