Published February 28th 2017 by Faber & Faber.
Goodreads Synopsis: Billy is a lonely boy. He’s obsessed with swimming in the sea, which is where he goes to wash his problems far, far away. Thanks to his mum’s mystery illness, his dad has been forced to work extra hours to make ends meet, so Billy locks himself away with David Attenborough films, and ponders the magic of nature. Meanwhile at school, bullies mercilessly seize on Billy’s ‘otherness’ and make his life as miserable as possible – but then new boy Patrick Green, with “fingers like steel, strength of a bear”, joins Billy’s class. And when a mackerel swims up to Billy’s face, blows bubbles into his Vista Clear Mask goggles and says: Fish Boy – Billy’s whole world changes.
My Review: A lot of people know I’m totally one to judge a book by its cover – this is a prime example! I loved the gorgeous cover artwork for this book, and it intrigued me about the story – so I eagerly requested to review it. I’m really glad I did – it’s nice to dip back into Middle Grade fiction again, and this was great.
Fish Boy follows Billy, a boy estranged from other children his age, who bully him. Between that and his mother’s illness, his only solace is swimming in the sea – and that’s where he meets the fish that starts talking to him, which opens him up to a strange new world with his new friend.
What I found really unique, and perhaps the best bit about Fish Boy, is the ambiguity of the whole story. Is it literal – does Billy really find talking fish, who talk to him and seemingly become his new friends? Or is Billy’s surreal swimming experience his brain’s coping mechanism; a distraction from the world around him? I really loved trying to read between the lines of this book. It’s a very layered story, and that’s why I think readers of all ages can enjoy it – they can take away whatever message they want.
Fish Boy combines some heartbreaking, relatable issues with a touch of magical realism that makes for a very unique story. It touches on bullying, how it feels to be different, and also the experience of having a parent who is ill, and what that entails for your family. I found it really touching and moving in places, particularly with the family themes. I loved the close family Daykin has constructed at the centre of this book – they’re wonderful to read about.
Billy’s voice is strong and authentic, and I really enjoyed his perspective while reading. I think it was especially a great narrative to explore family issues through. The friendship between the protagonist and a later character, Patrick, is very bizarre and entertaining – their dynamic was really fun and something that I’m sure readers will adore.
Fish Boy is a bizarre book. There is no avoiding that. It did take me a few pages to get into it, and I can’t say I was a hundred percent engaged in it the whole way through. It’s incredibly weird at points! A couple of things didn’t make much sense to me – it took me a lot of thought after reading to understand what the magical fish thing was about – but I do think it’s still a book with a lot of appeal to those who like similar things – who says that strange is a bad thing?
Overall, I definitely recommend this, especially to middle grade readers who are looking to read something new, with echoes of David Almond and Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls (except this one is a bit less sad!). Fish Boy, albeit a bizarre story, is imaginative and incredibly original. It touches on themes of family, friendship and what it means to be human, with just the right amount of surrealism.
I received a copy of Fish Boy from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.