by L. S. Matthews

Delacorte Press, June, 2004.
Hardcover, 196 pages.
ISBN: 0385731809
Ages 9-12

Fish by L. S. Matthews Fish is a story related by a child as a child would remember it -- with all the details demanded by the adult world left out. What the child leaves in the story are the important things such as how the fish looked and the very important relationships that the adults have with each other and with the events that occur.

Told by a narrator of unknown gender and age, Fish traces the harrowing journey by a child nicknamed Tiger, his parents (who are aid workers), a wise guide, his donkey and a fish that the storyteller has rescued from a muddy pond that is drying up after the rainy season. War is coming and it is crucial that the family get out of the country. The reader is never told the location of the country, the nationality of the protagonists (though, persumably they are English) or the time of year. What the reader is allowed to see is what a child sees and feels as he suffers through the trials of a long frightening journey through a hostile land scorched by drought, in order to get home. Soldiers belonging to a militia at first seem friendly, but later become hostile as they realize the hostage value of the family. The parents and the guide are observed by the child in the matter of fact way of children who understand on a perceptive level, but who have little power to influence the outcome of the events that rule their lives.

The vagueness of the child as to the country they are fleeing and the ethnicity of its inhabitants raises this simple story to a universal saga of all children whose lives are damaged by the politics of adults. The fish becomes an icon of hope as it depends on its rescuer to find a better river for it to swim in, and the story told by the child makes a powerful impact on the reader. Although Fish is the first book written by L. S. Matthews for young adults, it is a simple and poignant story that leads the reader to consider the plight of children in a war-torn world.

--Sarah Reaves White

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This review was published in the September-October, 2004 of The Internet Writing Journal.

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