Silence is Goldfish by Annabel Pitcher
|Silence is Goldfish by Annabel Pitcher|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: In which Tessie-T discovers she's a Pluto and her parents wanted a Mercury or Venus, at least. More sad, funny and relatable family dynamic storytelling from Annabel Pitcher. Not without faults but lovely stuff, nonetheless.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 384||Date: October 2015|
|External links: Author's website|
In which Tessie-T discovers she's a Pluto and her parents wanted a Mercury or Venus, at least.
When Tess is in her father's study, she discovers a blog post he has written which gives away a devastating family secret. Suddenly, for Tess, everything has changed. She decides to run away but chickens out at the last minute. As her life falls apart, Tess retreats into selective mutism and her only conversations are with an imaginary friend: a talking goldfish torch.
Can Goldfish see Tess through a crisis that involves not just the bedrock of family but also bullying and a breakdown in her mental health? As things go from bad to worse, Tess will find allies - and enemies - in the unlikeliest of places...
Tess is not always a sympathetic character. You do feel immensely sorry for her, especially at the outset. She discovers a family secret that strikes at the core of everything she feels about herself and takes away all her emotional crushes. She's being suffocated by a helicopter father who has suddenly become a Judas figure. She's far from the current svelte beauty standard and a bit awkward socially, so is an easy target for the mean girl squadron at her school. So, as a reader, you'd expect to spend the entire book overflowing with sympathy for her. But you don't. Tess takes teen self-involvement to some rather unsympathetic heights. She's also obstinate to the point of ignoring inconvenient truths that are as plain as the nose on your face. She's struggling desperately, but sometimes she is just plain irritating. You might like this - I do. I want my characters to be fully realised; imperfect. But if you're the type of reader who wants a heroine of total purity, be warned. Tess isn't like that.
Because the central character is a selective mute for most of the book, Pitcher has brought in an imaginary voice in the shape of a goldfish-shaped torch, with whom Tess develops an internal dialogue. There isn't really a better way around this if your central character doesn't talk, but I confess it sometimes sounded somewhat strained. Perhaps Tess's thoughts would have been enough, better even.
These nit picks aside, I thoroughly enjoyed Silence is Goldfish. Annabel Pitcher writes about family dynamics. What goes wrong, the invisible conflicts underlying the visible ones - these are all grist to her mill. And she does it really well. Here, Tess already feeling alienated, feels the unpleasant green monster of jealousy over the close bond her parents share. Their love shuts her out. From Tess's point of view, her mother operates a policy of a kind of benign neglect - she's kind, but she doesn't take Tess's side against her father's incessant helicoptering. Tess's father wants the best for her but is over-controlling - and the gulf between his own life and the standards he sets for his daughter seems hypocritical to a teenager. Is hypocritical, however well meant. This is a real family, recognisable to us all, whether we care to admit it or not.
The subtle school hierarchies are all accurately and painfully described, too - the mean girls cadre, the kudos levels available with every friendship made or broken, the shifting sands of growing and fading alliances, the obliviousness of the teachers. I was reminded: school is hard.
As Tess progresses through the book, so desperate for the world to be remade as she wants it to be, we can all see how things are likely to resolve themselves. The joy in the story is that the denouement is a surprise to Tess but not to us. This is more sad, funny and relatable family dynamic storytelling from Annabel Pitcher. It's not without faults but it's lovely stuff, nonetheless.
If Silence is Goldfish appeals, you might also want to look at The Day I Met Suzie by Chris Higgins or This Is Not Forgiveness by Celia Rees . Younger readers might enjoy Catcall by Linda Newbery , featuring a central character who also retreats into his own world.
You can read more book reviews or buy Silence is Goldfish by Annabel Pitcher at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Silence is Goldfish by Annabel Pitcher at Amazon.com.
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