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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Book Review: The Language of Goldfish by Zibby Oneal

When I was a teen I loved Zibby Oneal's book In Summer Light, and I didn't know she had written other books. The Language of Goldfish was a very powerful book. Carrie is growing up, 13, but she wants everything to stay the same. Her older sister Moira, 16, is navigating adolescence pretty smoothly, including their move to a new town and a new school, and yet Carrie is not. She eventually has a breakdown.

Writing about someone going crazy, particularly in first person, is a very tricky task, but this felt real and authentic. The world seems to turn into a kaleidoscope and turn sideways when Carrie has what I assume is a panic attack. But at heart Carrie really is a practical person. She's good at math, doesn't like poetry, and I think it's her practical side that brings her back to herself. It takes quite a while, with daily psychiatric meetings, but she does come to the realization that things are changing, she doesn't handle that well, and that's pretty much the problem. Meanwhile her art gives her an outlet, and her art teacher gives her a safe place to just be.
Unlike some other YA books I've read recently, I didn't feel like this book passed by too quickly for me to get immersed in the story and the characters. Yes it is short, but there's no wasted words or images. Her family feels three-dimensional and authentic, the kids at school seem pretty normal, and Carrie's problems are of course very real. It may seem very simple, especially to those of us who did not have trouble with things changing as we grew up, but I'm sure we all knew someone like this. Someone who wanted to stay a child, who wanted to still believe in Christmas, stay her Daddy's little girl, not mature into a young lady. Kids deal with this desire in different ways - eating disorders being probably the most common - but Carrie's response isn't at all out of the ordinary. Unfortunately when kids go through this kind of trauma, the usual reaction is very much like Carrie's mother who tells everyone she had bronchitis and wants to just forget about it. If we ignore these problems, they won't solve themselves. In that way, Carrie was more mature about her problem than her mother. This was a touching, thoughtful, powerful book.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

1 comment:

Julie P. said...

Thanks for sharing! I'm not at all familiar with the book or the author so I want to thank you for introducing them to me. Great review!