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Thursday, September 15, 2011

One Fish, Two Fish, Travis Is A Blue Fish. What Will Happen If (When?) His Whole School Finds Out His Shameful Secret?

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish. Travis Roberts may not be able to read a Dr. Seuss story, but he knows what a blue fish is. It's someone like him, a dummy who can't make any sense of words, an idiot who can't even sound his way through a picture book. It wouldn't be so bad if he was in kindergarten, but Travis isn't 5, he's 13, and if the other junior high kids learn his dirty little secret, he'll never hear the end of it. At least his recent move to tiny Russett, Wisconsin, means no one at his new school knows about his illiteracy. All Travis has to do is keep it that way.

Travis is faking his way through classes and homework assignments well enough to satisfy his grandpa (who only cares enough to make sure Travis isn't skipping) when he meets the flamboyant Vida Wojciehowski, a.k.a Velveeta. The chatty 13-year-old doesn't do subtle - she knows Travis is hiding something and she's determined to find out what. Not that she's going to be giving up any of her own secrets in the process. Still, as nervous as Velveeta makes him, Travis likes her, almost enough to trust her with his problem. Almost.

When an English teacher discovers Travis' difficulty, he offers Travis something he hasn't felt in a long time: hope. But trusting Mr. McQueen means offering up his most vulnerable self. It means caring. It means trying. It means maybe, just maybe, climbing out of the hole he's made for himself out of misery and grief. The only question left is: How long will it take Velveeta to find out Mr. McQueen's teaching Travis to read? And what will happen when her big mouth broadcasts his secret to the whole school?

Bluefish by Pat Schmatz may be the first YA "issue" book I've read about illiteracy and I'm starting to wonder why. The issue's certainly pertinent. Still, it's not one I see addressed much. Schmatz, thankfully, covers the topic in a way that's honest, sensitive and hopeful. Her characters come alive on the page, inspiring an empathy that makes their plights even more heartbreaking. I appreciated the importance and originality of this book (Velveeta's character, especially, spoke to me) while at the same time feeling a little bit of disconnect with the story. I'm not sure why except that maybe the story got a wee bit too predictable for me. Still, it definitely made an impression. Just not a huge, shout-it-from-the-rooftops one.

(Readalikes: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is mentioned several times in Bluefish and I do see a few similarities there.)

Grade: B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language (no F-bombs), sexual innuendo and some mature subject matter

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of Bluefish from the generous folks at Candlewick Press. Thank you!

1 comment:

  1. This one actually sounds interesting and this king isn't usually my cup of tea.


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