Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos

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Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A story of terminal illness combined with a satire of reality TV. Quite the combination! A tricky one to pull off, but Vlahos manages admirably and has written a touching, engaging novel that gives a great deal of pause for thought.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: January 2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1408870630

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Jared Stone has been diagnosed with a brain tumour. It's inoperable and he has only a few months left to live. Desperate to ensure financial security for his family after he's gone, Jared decides to auction himself - the rest of his life, his death, everything - on eBay for a reserve price of one million dollars. Unsurprisingly, eBay cancels the auction as against their terms and conditions but that's okay because Jared has come to the attention of a reality TV producer...

... Jared has also come to the attention of other people. There's his family - wife Deidre and daughters Megan and Jackie. There's a psychopathic billionaire who would just love to have a human life in only his hands. There's a lonely gaming enthusiast and a hardhearted nun. And there's a boy in Russia who is quite good at video-editing. All of these people will have a part to play in the last weeks of the life of a genuinely good man.

Goodness me, but Life in a Fishbowl has a veritable cornucopia of themes. It covers terminal illness, the grief associated with it, assisted dying, sibling rivalry, online gaming communities, reality TV, greed in a consumerist world and, well, that's enough to be going on with but it isn't all of it. Getting all this into a YA story you've decided to tell through multiple viewpoints is some ambition. And it's to the credit of Len Vlahos that he has achieved it. He even manages to credibly anthropomorphise a high-grade glioblastoma multiforme! This novel could have been a mess but it really wasn't. It read well and the overall narrative was clear. While authorial tone came over a little too loud and clear at times, there are many moments of genuine profundity. I felt for the Stones, even for Megan, the selfish, attention-seeking sibling. And the way in which the terminally-ill Jared Stone gradually slipped away from the reader as well as his family was beautifully done.

I don't want to say too much more because this is the kind of story you need to read for yourself. It's not always an easy read but it is occasionally a very funny one and also touching. But, most importantly, it gives a great deal of pause for thought. How real is reality TV? Not very, probably. What is the best way for a life to end? Is there even a one-size-fits-all answer to that question? Probably not.

Life in a Fishbowl is one for the open-hearted reader who is ready to be challenged with difficult questions. And, having been around YA readers for a long time now, I know there are plenty of them out there.

Henry Tumour by Anthony McGowan also features an anthropomorphised tumour. It's a dark comedy and it's hilarious. Younger readers who might enjoy a satire of reality TV could look at Kid Swap (Jiggy McCue) by Michael Lawrence.

Buy Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos at

Buy Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos at


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